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– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
Cluster Munitions

Information about cluster munitions.

Convention on Cluster Munitions

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This treaty, through prohibition and a framework for action, addresses the humanitarian consequences of civilians by cluster munitions.

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The Convention on Cluster Munitions bans all use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Cluster munitions do not distinguish between civilians and combatants and can leave behind unexploded ordnance which can harm civilians and be detrimental to economic and social development for decades after use. The Convention aids in clearance of contaminated areas in order to prevent future disasters. It also provides risk reduction education and establishes a framework for cooperation and assistance for survivors.

Opened for Signature: 3 December 2008

Entry into force: 1 August 2010

Official Text: http://disarmament.un.org/treaties/t/cluster_munitions/text

Status and Signatories: http://disarmament.un.org/treaties/t/cluster_munitions

ACA Backgrounder: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/clusterataglance

Subject Resources:

Experts Urge Obama Administration Review U.S. Cluster Munitions Policy and Support New Global Treaty

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December 1, 2008
Contact: Jeff Abramson, 202-463-8270 x109; Daryl Kimball, 202-463-8270 x107

(Washington, D.C.): President-elect Obama's national security team will have to grapple with a number of issues, including U.S. policy on certain types of conventional munitions that harm civilians. An early decision will be how to respond to the new Convention on Cluster Munitions, which 100 or more world leaders are expected to sign beginning tomorrow in Oslo.

The new international treaty, which may enter into force as soon as six months after the signing ceremony, will ban the use of weapons that have indiscriminately killed and maimed thousands of noncombatants and continue to pose a hazard today, in some cases more than 30 years after their initial use. The Bush administration has opposed the treaty despite the commitment of the United Kingdom and most other NATO allies to adopt the convention, to discontinue use of cluster munitions, and to destroy their stockpiles.

"Obama's new national security team has the opportunity to shift U.S. policy on these and other important humanitarian and security issues,"said Jeff Abramson, conventional weapons analyst with the Arms Control Association.

"The president-elect has indicated a willingness to support international initiatives to limit harm to civilians caused by conventional weapons. As president, Obama can begin by reexaming recent Defense Department decisions on cluster munitions with an eye toward signing the convention in 2009 and bringing the United States inline with the new global consensus," Abramson urged.

Answers to frequently asked questions on cluster munitions are available at http://www.armscontrol.org/pressroom/CCMFAQ.

Description: 

President-elect Obama's national security team will have to grapple with a number of issues, including U.S. policy on certain types of conventional munitions that harm civilians. An early decision will be how to respond to the new Convention on Cluster Munitions, which 100 or more world leaders are expected to sign beginning tomorrow in Oslo. (Continue)

Convention on Cluster Munitions FAQs

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December 1, 2008

Contact: Jeff Abramson (Research Analyst, 202-463-8270 x 109)

What is the Convention on Cluster Munitions?

Sharing many features with the 1997 Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel landmines and supported by many of the same governments, individuals and organizations that created that treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions calls for the clearance and destruction of virtually all existing cluster munitions. It also includes novel measures on victims' human rights and provisions for healthcare and social inclusion.

In the summer of 2006, Israel fired millions of cluster submunitions into southern Lebanon, with an estimated 1 million failing to explode at impact. Hezbollah reportedly fired a smaller number of cluster submunitions into northern Israel at the same time. The 2006 exchange raised a humanitarian outcry, and at the end of that year, Norway announced that it would take the lead in restricting the weapons after Russia, the United States, and some other countries party to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons failed to accelerate the pace of work on the weapons in that forum. The so-called Oslo process drew on a nongovernmental movement that had already coalesced around the weapons. Through major conferences in Oslo (February 2007), Lima (May 2007), Vienna (December 2007), Wellington (February 2008), and smaller, regional meetings, the Oslo process expanded to include more than 100 countries that agreed to the text of the convention on May 30, 2008 in Dublin.

What are cluster munitions?

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse small submunitions over broad areas. Many of these submunitions fail to explode initially, later injuring or killing noncombatants.

The weapons date back to World War II. The United States, which possesses a stockpile of more than 700 million submunitions, used the weapons in the 1960s and 1970s in Southeast Asia, leaving an estimated 20 million unexploded bomblets in Laos alone at the end of the Vietnam War. The United States also used the weapons in Iraq in the early stages of the present conflict. Most recently, Russia and Georgia used the weapons against each other in August of this year.

What is current U.S. policy?

On July 9, the Department of Defense released a three-page memo outlining U.S. cluster munitions policy that explicitly claims a military utility for the weapons against massed formations as well as dispersed and moving targets, while also emphasizing a need to "minimize the potential unintended harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure." The policy mandates that by 2018 the Defense Department will not use, sell, or transfer cluster munitions with a failure rate greater than 1 percent. Until then, any usage of weapons not meeting that threshold must be approved by a combatant commander. Since 2005, department policy has prohibited procurement of new weapons that do not meet that reliability level, and current law prohibits their transfer during this fiscal year.

What is President-elect Obama's record?

To the best of our knowledge, President-elect Obama has not officially indicated whether he supports the Convention on Cluster Munitions. In answers to an Arms Control Today survey this September, he stated:

"In general, I strongly support international initiatives to limit harm to civilians caused by conventional weapons. In the Senate, I...voted for an amendment offered by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Leahy prohibiting the use or transfer of cluster munitions absent rules of engagement ensuring they would not be employed near concentrations of civilians.*

"As president, I will help lead the way on these issues. Our military has legitimate concerns on these issues, and I look forward to consulting closely with leadership at the Department of Defense as we shape policies on these key issues. At the same time, I recognize that our forces have been moving away from using cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines ourselves, and these trends can be accelerated with targeted investments in innovative technologies."

* This 2006 amendment, S.Amnd.4882, failed by a vote of 30 to 70.

Select Links:

Arms Control Association cluster munition subject resources.

President-elect Obama's responses to Arms Control Today survey.

Convention on Cluster Munitions signing conference.

Convention on Cluster Munitions text.

Human Rights Watch cluster munition information chart.

Description: 

What is the Convention on Cluster Munitions?

Sharing many features with the 1997 Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel landmines and supported by many of the same governments, individuals and organizations that created that treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions calls for the clearance and destruction of virtually all existing cluster munitions. It also includes novel measures on victims' human rights and provisions for healthcare and social inclusion. (Continue)

Subject Resources:

Quick-Reaction Force Contract Awarded

Jeff Abramson

On Sept. 11, the Department of State awarded a contract for a private force that would be able to deploy anywhere in the world within 72 hours to assess dangers posed by explosive remnants of war (ERW). The force could then be tasked to clear and destroy such hazards over a period of up to three months.

According to a Sept. 29 press release, the quick-reaction force (QRF) aligns with the State Department’s goal of dealing “with all explosive remnants of war, whether they are surplus, abandoned, hazardous, or residual conventional weapons, rather than one specific type of weapon or munitions.”

Despite strong international efforts focused on cluster munitions over the past two years, Washington has stressed the importance of taking a broader approach. In a February white paper, the State Department argued that “[t]he campaign to ban cluster munitions has endeavored to elevate a single type of munition to infamy rather than addressing the continuing need to clean up all explosive remnants of war, the vast majority of which are not cluster munitions.”

Earlier this year, more than 100 countries agreed to support the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which will open for signature in December. The convention provides guidelines for clearance and bans future use of all but a very narrow range of cluster munitions. (See ACT, July/August 2008.)

The United States and many countries that together possess the majority of the world’s cluster stockpiles have so far opted not to support the Convention on Cluster Munitions. They are instead participating in a discussion within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). In November, CCW states-parties may reach agreement on a cluster munitions-specific protocol that includes clearance guidelines but much less restrictive prohibitions on future use of the weapons.

The CCW already has a general ERW provision (Protocol V), which delineates cleanup responsibilities and suggests best practices for explosive weapons storage, risk education, and management, but no limitations on usage. The Senate provided its advice and consent on CCW Protocol V in September. (See ACT, October 2008.)

State Department officials stressed the civilian and humanitarian nature of the QRF in a meeting with Arms Control Today Oct. 6. They described the primary advantage of the force as the ability to respond rapidly, but said it would otherwise be similar to existing programs within the department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, which is funding and will oversee the force.

Plans to create the force were announced Jan. 16 at a CCW meeting and followed up with a solicitation of bids from private contractors that opened April 29 and closed June 13. (See ACT, March and June 2008.)

The QRF will only deploy to countries that request it. The exact size of any deployment will depend on the situation, according to the officials. As an example, the force could have been requested and sent to Georgia earlier this year after hostilities between Georgia and Russia left insecure weapon depots, unexploded cluster munitions, and other remnants of war. In other situations, the QRF may only provide an assessment, leaving host countries and other international organizations a blueprint for how to proceed.

The State Department announced the selection of DynCorp International to operate the QRF in its September press release. The contract is valued at $2.4 million per year and may be continued one year at a time for four additional years. A State Department official indicated in an e-mail Oct. 14 to Arms Control Today that the force should be operational in mid-November.


CCW Considers Limits on Cluster Munitions

Jeff Abramson

In September, delegates to a Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) meeting considered possible limitations on the use of cluster munitions, while supporters of a separate process criticized the effort as too little, too late. The discussions came against the backdrop of alleged use of the weapons in the August conflict between Russia and Georgia. A next round of meetings in November will determine whether a new protocol will emerge from the CCW this year.

The CCW governmental group of experts on cluster muntions convened Sept. 1-5 in Geneva. During the meeting, delegates discussed many of the most contentious issues involved in drafting a new treaty protocol, including general prohibitions and restrictions, and provisions on storage, destruction, and transfer of cluster munitions between countries. The discussions followed the May conclusion of a separate treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), outside the CCW treaty process. The CCM, which opens for signature in December, bans the use of cluster munitions, with the exception of a narrow range of sophisticated weapons, and imposes strict guidelines for stockpile strorage, destruction, and transfer. (See ACT, July/August 2008.)

The CCW draft protocol is filled with bracketed text indicating possible additional changes. It provides a variety of options for defining which cluster munitions would be prohibited. Relying on technical features to minimize “the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions,” some of the proposals could bar the most commonly used cluster munitions. One option matches current U.S. policy, which calls for using more advanced cluster munitions so that no more than 1 percent of submunitions remains unexploded after dispersal. (See ACT, September 2008.) Yet another lists the technical characteristics of acceptably sophisticated weapons laid out in the CCM but leaves unclear whether all or only part of that treaty’s five-part definition of what constitutes such a muntion would apply.

Under the CCM, cluster-like weapons are permitted that contain no more than nine explosive submunitions, each of which must have the following characteristics: weigh more than 4 kilograms and less than 20 kilograms; be designed to detect and engage a single target; and be equipped with an electronic self-destruct mechanism and an electronic self-deactivating feature. The vast majority of the world’s cluster munitions, including those from the United States, do not meet these requirements. (See ACT, July/August 2008.)

Supporters of the CCW process stress that it involves the major users and stockpilers of cluster munitions, including countries such as China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States, which have thus far remained outside the Oslo process that led to the CCM. The CCW meeting’s chair, Danish Ambassador Bent Wigotski, told Arms Control Today in a Sept. 17 e-mail that, “for the first time in public, most of the major players not taking part in Oslo indicated their readiness to negotiate restrictions/prohibitions on some types of cluster munitions.” He added, “I hope that everybody will keep in mind that 90 percent of world stockpiles are not covered by the CCM.”

Others have raised questions as to whether the CCW is on track. Norwegian Ambassador Steffen Kongstad, who led Norway’s delegation to the CCW meeting as well as his country’s efforts in the Oslo process, told Arms Control Today in an e-mail Sept. 14 that “it is not clear that any solution or consensus agreement is emerging in [the] CCW at this stage.” Instead, he suggested that “perhaps a more constructive approach is to see if a more limited scope like a transfer ban could be a more productive way for [the] CCW. Trying to establish an alternative to the CCM seems a bit too late.”

Nongovernmental advocates of the CCM have been more critical of the CCW approach. The Cluster Munitions Coalition, a leading international alliance in the Oslo process, passed a negative judgment on the CCW effort and issued a press release Sept. 5 titled “USA, Backed By Denmark, Works To Legalise Cluster Bombs After Ban Agreed.”

As the CCW meeting was beginning, new allegations of cluster munitions use in Georgia surfaced. On Sept. 1, Human Rights Watch announced that it had received a letter from the Georgian Defense Ministry acknowledging Georgia’s use of cluster munitions “against Russian military equipment and armament” but stating that they “were never used against civilians, civilian targets and civilian populated or nearby areas.” The letter was later made available on the ministry’s Website. Human Rights Watch had previously documented Russian use of cluster munitions in Georgia. (See ACT, September 2008.)

The issue does not appear to be impacting the likelihood of an agreement coming from the group. According to Wigotski, “Events in Georgia did not affect the CCW process.” Kongstad also expressed skepticism that the issue would impact future deliberations, but did say that “it emphasizes the relevance of the CCM and the importance of establishing an international norm.”

In September, delegates to a Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) meeting considered possible limitations on the use of cluster munitions, while supporters of a separate process criticized the effort as too little, too late. The discussions came against the backdrop of alleged use of the weapons in the August conflict between Russia and Georgia. A next round of meetings in November will determine whether a new protocol will emerge from the CCW this year. (Continue)

Russian Cluster Use Alleged; U.S. Clarifies Policy

Jeff Abramson

In July, the United States clarified its military policy on cluster munitions, weapons that Russia has subsequently been accused of using in Georgia. The developments come amid global efforts to limit the weapons.

On July 9, the Department of Defense released a three-page memo outlining U.S. cluster munitions policy that explicitly claims a military utility for the weapons while also emphasizing a need to "minimize the potential unintended harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure." The policy mandates that by 2018 the Defense Department will not use, sell, or transfer cluster munitions with a failure rate greater than 1 percent. Until then, any usage of weapons not meeting that threshold must be approved by a combatant commander. Since 2005, department policy has prohibited procurement of new weapons that do not meet that reliability level, and current law prohibits their transfer during this fiscal year.

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse small submunitions over broad areas. These submunitions sometimes fail to explode initially, later injuring or killing noncombatants. U.S. policy has focused in part on improving the reliability of these weapons. This stand has been attacked by nongovernmental groups within the Cluster Munition Coalition, who have disputed that levels of tested reliability claimed by the United States and others accurately reflect the realities of actual use. The U.S. policy clarification comes soon after more than 100 countries committed to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which bans cluster munitions that do not meet even more stringent criteria, such as having self-destruct and self-deactivating mechanisms. That treaty, a product of the so-called Oslo process, opens for signature in December. (See ACT, July/August 2008.)

The CCW and Allegations of Russian Use

Instead of joining the CCM, the United States, Russia, and many major producers and stockpilers of the weapons have been exploring a new protocol to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) that would explicitly address cluster munitions. Whether recent claims of Russian use of cluster munitions in Georgia will impact the CCW discussions remains to be seen.

Human Rights Watch, an international nongovernmental organization, alleged that Russia dropped cluster munitions in August during its conflict in Georgia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili repeated those claims in a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Aug. 15, a charge denied by Russia. The human rights group cited photographs and interviews with doctors, military personnel, civilian witnesses, and victims in claiming that Russian aircraft dropped RBK-250 cluster bombs, each containing 30 submunitions, on the towns of Gori and Ruisi. In Ruisi, three civilians were killed and five wounded. In Gori, at least eight civilians were killed and dozens injured, including Dutch and Israeli journalists, according to the report.

Russia's state-run news agency RIA Novosti quoted Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the general staff, as denying the claims. He said during an Aug. 15 news briefing, "We did not use cluster bombs, and what's more, there was absolutely no necessity to do so."

A CCW group of governmental experts (GGE), which contains U.S. and Russian representatives, meets again meets Sept. 1-5. In July, the group held its third and longest meeting of the year. During that meeting, a draft discussion text was circulated with a range of options on use restrictions, storage and destruction, and definition of cluster munitions. Some of the alternatives were very similar to the CCM; others were more reflective of the U.S. approach.

The meeting's chair, Danish Ambassador Bent Wigotski, told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 19 e-mail that he senses "strong support from most states, including those not in Oslo, to conclude an agreement, i.e. to adopt a proposal, this year. This support is based on the fact that all major user and producers are participating in the GGE." Key areas he identified for future discussion include general prohibitions and restrictions, as well as protection of civilians and civilian objects and victim assistance.

If the September meeting is not successful, the group is scheduled to meet again in early November, prior to an annual meeting of states-parties Nov. 13-14, where an additional protocol on cluster munitions could be presented for approval.

In the meantime, the Senate may strengthen the U.S. hand at the CCW table by providing its advice and consent to ratification of three protocols and an amendment to the CCW. On July 29, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved by voice vote measures, some of which have been on the Senate's calendar since 1997, that expand the scope of the treaty to intrastate conflict, regulate the use of incendiary weapons, ban the use of blinding lasers, and address the effects of explosive remnants of war.

A committee staff member told Arms Control Today in an e-mail Aug. 15 that the committee will attempt to have the measures debated by the full Senate before Congress adjourns for the November presidential and congressional elections. In an April meeting of the committee, officials from the Departments of Defense and State testified that ratification of remaining CCW measures would aid U.S. efforts to negotiate a cluster munitions protocol in the CCW. (See ACT, May 2008.)

107 Countries Approve Cluster Munitions Treaty


Jeff Abramson

On May 30 in Dublin, 107 countries agreed to the text of a new treaty that calls for the clearance and destruction of virtually all existing cluster munitions but will permit the use of more advanced cluster-like arms. However, backers of the new Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) did not include those holding the majority of the world’s cluster munition stockpiles, who are opting to instead address the humanitarian impact of the munitions within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse small submunitions over broad areas that sometimes fail to explode initially, later injuring or killing noncombatants.

Key Compromises Reached

Cluster munitions date back to at least World War II, when they were air-dropped by Soviet and German forces. Traditionally, the weapons were designed for use against mobile, diffuse targets, such as large vehicle or troop formations, although they have sometimes been used more widely. The United States, which possesses a stockpile of more than 700 million submunitions, used the weapons in the 1960s and 1970s in Southeast Asia, leaving an estimated 20 million unexploded bomblets in Laos alone at the end of the Vietnam War. Most recently, Israel fired cluster munitions into Lebanon during hostilities in the summer of 2006, with perhaps 1 million submunitions failing to explode initially. (See ACT, January/February 2008.) Hezbollah reportedly fired other cluster munitions into northern Israel that same year.

The exchange raised a humanitarian outcry, and at the end of 2006, Norway announced that it would take the lead on restricting the weapons after Russia, the United States, and some other countries party to the CCW refused to accelerate the pace of work on the weapons in that forum. The so-called Oslo process drew on a nongovernmental movement that had already coalesced around the weapons, comprised of many of the same individuals and organizations that had led the effort to create the 1997 Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines. (See ACT, December 2007.) Through major conferences in Oslo (February 2007), Lima (May 2007), Vienna (December 2007), and Wellington (February 2008) and smaller, regional meetings, the Oslo process expanded to include more than 100 countries.

The text agreed to in Dublin requires the destruction of all forbidden cluster munitions within eight years and the clearance of all areas afflicted with unexploded cluster submunition remnants within 10 years. Extensions may be requested if these deadlines cannot be met. The accord also includes measures for international assistance to victims of cluster munitions. Countries will be able to sign the treaty beginning in Oslo Dec. 3, and then it will enter into force six months after 30 governments sign and ratify it.

A major question going into the Dublin conference was whether eventual CCM states-parties would be able to cooperate militarily with the United States or other non-states-parties. The desire to maintain interoperability put U.S. allies, in particular the United Kingdom, in a “delicate” position at the Dublin conference, according to one British diplomat who spoke with Arms Control Today June 19.

To address these concerns, a compromise was reached in Dublin with the inclusion of Article 21, specifically clarifying “relations with states not party to this convention.” It permits military cooperation even when cluster munitions are used, as long as member states do not “expressly request the use of cluster munitions in cases where the choice of munitions used is within its exclusive control.” This rather broad exemption made it much easier for U.S. allies to support the convention, as the United Kingdom dramatically did May 28 when Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a statement that, “[i]n order to secure as strong a Convention as possible in the last hours of negotiation we have issued instructions that we should support a ban on all cluster bombs, including those currently in service” by the United Kingdom.

Although abstaining from the Oslo process, the United States did exert pressue on its participants. During a May 21 press briefing as the Dublin meeting was in its initial days, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Stephen D. Mull repeated U.S. interoperability arguments that the draft treaty could be read as calling for the criminalization of military cooperation between eventual member and nonmember states. Because U.S. ships carry cluster munitions, he further extended the argument to say that U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian assistance could be cut off, raising the stakes for the global community. Mull also said that “a much more effective way to go about this is to pursue technological fixes that will make sure that these weapons are no longer viable once the conflict is over.”

A separate concession on the definition of cluster munitions partially reflects U.S. preference for technological improvements instead of an outright ban. In Article 2, negotiators exempted munitions that “avoid indiscriminate area effects and the risks posed by unexploded submunitions” by requiring that no more than nine explosive submunitions be included in a cluster munition and that each of them meet the following characteristics: weigh more than 4 kilograms and less than 20 kilograms; be designed to detect and engage a single target; and be equipped with an electronic self-destruct mechanism and an electronic self-deactivating feature. According to most experts, current U.S. weapons do not meet these requirements, but the British diplomat indicated an expectation that Western technology will improve over time.

Treaty’s Impact to Be Determined

As the Dublin conference drew to a close, many participants expressed optimism that their efforts would lead to a global norm. Advocates called on eventual states-parties to ask their nonmember allies to remove any cluster munitions stockpiled on a member’s territory in order to further the norm against use. Nonetheless, the nonparticipation of many countries and continued claims of military utility for the weapons means that questions will remain about the impact of the convention.

In his closing statement May 30 in Dublin, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin noted that although “important states [are] not present, I am also convinced that together we will have succeeded in stigmatizing any future use of cluster munitions.” In response to questions from Arms Control Today, Dutch diplomats indicated in e-mails June 18 that they view the CCM as a new international humanitarian norm and that the Netherlands would work to convince other countries to join the treaty.

In a June 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a European diplomat cited the Ottawa Convention as an example that “a norm can be created even without important users and stockpilers participating.” Since the 1997 opening for signature of the Ottawa Convention, the trade and production of anti-personnel mines has essentially ceased. Even though major producers and stockpilers of anti-personnel mines have not become states-parties to the convention, most have generally stopped planting new mines. (See ACT, December 2007.) The CCM is patterned after the Ottawa Convention, in some places sharing the exact same language.

The British diplomat indicated that London is committed to maintaining interoperability and wants to be “in front of the international movement,” intending to do “more than just the letter of the treaty.” As such, it has been closely watched for its response to calls for eventual states-parties to ask allies, especially the United States, to remove cluster munitions from any bases on a CCM member’s territory.

On June 3, Foreign and Commonwealth Office deputy minister Mark Malloch-Brown indicated that, “at the end of that eight-year period [for stockpile destruction], even a country such as the [United States], were it not a signatory, would no longer be able to keep such weapons on UK territory.” Deputy defense minister Bob Ainsworth clarified on June 5 that the CCM “does not prevent the [United States] from continuing to stockpile cluster munitions on their bases within UK territory (including Diego Garcia). However, in keeping with our commitment to uphold the norms of the treaty, we will be discussing with the [United States] the longer-term status of their stockpiles on UK territory.”

Dutch diplomats indicated that their country was still studying the question of third-party stockpile removal.

Danish Ambassador Bent Wigotski, a delegate to the Dublin meeting and the CCW, indicated in a June 24 e-mail to Arms Control Today that Denmark reads Article 21 as providing “no reason to support actions to remove U.S. cluster munitions from bases in countries parties to the new convention.”

He also argued that many of the major stockpilers of cluster munitions maintain the weapons for military use and therefore will not comply with the new convention. Wigotski said, “Countries possessing more than 90 percent of the world stockpiles do not take part in the Oslo process and have no intention of acceding to the convention…. [A]ny comparison with the Ottawa Convention is misleading. Cluster munitions are much more important for a number of countries, constituting a very significant part of their firepower.” Mull expressed similar sentiments, saying in the May press briefing, “We think that it is going to be impossible to ban cluster munitions, as many in the Oslo process would like to do, because these are weapons that have a certain military utility and are of use. The United States relies on them as an important part of our own defense strategy.”

Although opponents argue that today’s war-fighting is unlikely to fit the open troop formation scenarios for which cluster munitions were originally designed, the CCM attempts to offer a way through the military utility debate with the exemption for munitions that avoid indiscriminate effects. “The exclusion of these types of munitions…is one prerequisite for universalization of the convention,” the European diplomat said, adding that it will allow states-parties “to keep necessary military capabilities…while preventing the continued use of cluster munitions that…cause unacceptable harm to civilians.”

One munition that meets these requirements, according to the European diplomat, is the German-produced SMArt-155, which only contains two submunitions, can target individual objects, and has self-destruct and self-deactivation capabilities. It has not been used in combat to date.

Whether additional countries will take this option and make the transition to more expensive alternate munitions or simply abandon cluster munitions remains to be seen.

Next Steps in the CCW

As the Oslo process was launched, countries participating in the CCW opted to begin negotiations on the weapons. Those discussions are conducted primarily through a government group of experts on CCW Protocol V, which entered into force Nov. 12, 2006, and covers explosive remnants of war, of which unexploded cluster munitions are a subset. Many major cluster munitions producers and stockpilers, including China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States, have stayed out of the Oslo process in favor of the CCW.

The successful conclusion of the CCM may put added pressure on the countries participating in the CCW to reach a new accord by a November meeting of CCW states-parties, the target date suggested by numerous diplomats. Although any agreement that comes out of the CCW is unlikely to include as sweeping a limitation on cluster munitions as the CCM, many participants hope that it would be accepted by countries that currently possess the majority of the world’s stockpiles and thereby dramatically lessen the humanitarian toll of historic and future cluster munitions use.

A Dutch official stated that “Dublin definitely adds urgency to the CCW process.” The European diplomat said that CCW participating countries that abstained from the Oslo process “now have an opportunity to show that the CCW is up to the challenge” of addressing cluster munitions and added that “out of the 105 states-parties to the CCW, 68 participated in the Dublin conference and adopted the text of the new [CCM].”

During his May press conference, Mull recognized humanitarian issues related to cluster munitions and reiterated Washington’s desire to address those concerns through the CCW process, which he described as the “place where all of the principal producers and users of these munitions vote and participate and work together.” Wigotski stressed the Danish belief “that the participation in the CCW of all the major users and producers should make it possible for the CCW to produce a legally binding protocol with an added value and impact in the real world—covering the more than 90 percent of world stockpile not affected by the Oslo process.”

The next major meeting of the pertinent CCW group of experts takes place July 7-25 in Geneva. Additional meetings are scheduled for Sept. 1-5 and early November, which would allow for preparation of a protocol to be presented at the annual meeting of states-parties set for Nov. 13-14.

Exactly what that protocol might entail is still unclear. Public statements by U.S. officials and communications to Arms Control Today by diplomats from Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom all express a desire to conclude a protocol that prohibits the use of cluster munitions that cause “unacceptable harm” or a similar formulation of that term. Wigotski stated, “[I]n the view of Denmark, the CCW should at least take action affecting those types of cluster munitions that have no self-destruction, self-deactivation, or self-neutralization features.” The European diplomat pointed to a May 2007 proposal that ultimately envisages a complete prohibition on cluster munitions as “a sound basis for a CCW result.” The British diplomat expressed hope of “coming out with an acceptable, sensible compromise at the end of the day.”

The advance copy of the chairperson’s draft discussion paper for a protocol on cluster muntions includes articles on clearance and destruction, victim assistance, and cooperation and assistance but leaves blank articles on general prohibitions and restrictions and storage and destruction. Rather than simply calling for a blanket restriction on cluster munitions use, the draft allows for military purposes and relies on avoiding “incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, [and] damage to civilian objects, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

Given the possibility that countries not participating in the Oslo process may agree to a new CCW protocol, the collective result could be new international norms that dramatically lessen the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions use.

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Corrected online October 8, 2008. See explanation.

Senate Mulls CCW Edits; Cluster Munitions Debated

Jeff Abramson

As negotiators met in Geneva in April to discuss a proposed new protocol to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) that would address the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee finally began to consider several other additions to the convention that had long languished on Capitol Hill. Military and diplomatic officials expressed hope that Senate action on the long-stalled and apparently uncontroversial measures could provide additional leverage to the U.S. effort to shape the international debate on cluster munitions.

Senate Committee Looks at CCW

On April 15, the foreign relations panel heard testimony from officials of the Departments of Defense and State urging support for three additional CCW protocols and an amendment to the treaty. The 1980 CCW seeks to restrict or ban the use of "indiscriminate and excessively injurious weapons." The United States ratified the treaty in 1995 and its first two protocols, prohibiting the use of weapons that wound or kill using fragments that cannot be detected by x-rays and regulating the use of landmines and booby traps.

The three other protocols considered at the hearing, some of which were submitted by President Bill Clinton and others by President George W. Bush, regulate the use of incendiary weapons, ban the use of blinding laser weapons, and address the effects of explosive remnants of war (ERW). The amendment would expand the scope of the treaty to apply to intrastate conflict, not just interstate conflict.

Clinton submitted the CCW's third and fourth protocols to the Senate in 1997. Protocol III regulates incendiary weapons, those designed to set fire to or burn their target, and prohibits their use against civilians. Protocol IV bans the use and trade of lasers designed to cause permanent blindness. The Senate has not provided advice and consent to either protocol although it did so for a 1996 amendment to Protocol II, which was submitted by Clinton at the same time.

In June 2006, Bush submitted to the Senate two additional changes to the convention. The first, an amendment to CCW Article I, which was concluded in 2001, eliminates the distinction between international and noninternational armed conflicts for the purposes of the convention. The second, Protocol V concluded in 2003, deals with ERW, the unexploded and abandoned ordnance left behind after fighting ends. That protocol defines the responsibility of parties to mark and clear such ordnance as well as provide assistance to victims.

The CCW measures are already a part of U.S. military practice and are not expected to be controversial. Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), the only senator in attendance, chaired the hearing and noted that the measures "carry broad support within the United States and bridge any partisan divide." Brigadier General Michelle Johnson, deputy director for the war on terrorism and global effects for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that U.S. operations are already consistent with the treaty. State Deparment legal adviser John Bellinger added in his written testimony that "[t]hese treaties are widely supported and are not contentious in our view. This administration, including the State and Defense Departments, strongly supports these treaties."

It is unclear when the Senate panel or the full Senate will act on the measures. A Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer told Arms Control Today in an April 23 e-mail that the committee "will submit questions for the record to the [e]xecutive branch and is working on the text of resolutions that would provide the Senate's advice and consent to U.S. ratification of the amendment and protocols. When that work is complete, the committee will schedule a markup." If the full Senate provides its consent, the president can complete the steps necessary for U.S. ratification.

All three protocols and the amendment to Article I have entered into force for those countries who have agreed to be bound by them. International acceptance is uneven, however, as 86 countries have accepted Protocol IV but only 38 are bound by Protocol V. A recent State Department white paper conservatively estimates that more than 5,000 casualties occurred worldwide in 2006 as a result of the landmines and ERW, weapons that would be covered in the existing and proposed CCW protocols.

International Efforts Continue in CCW, Oslo Processes

Administration officials contend that ratifying the treaty measures might give the United States greater leverage in the global debate on the use of cluster munitions, which are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse smaller submunitions over broad areas and sometimes fail to explode. Bellinger wrote that, "after ratification, the United States will be able to participate fully in meetings of states-parties aimed at implementation of these treaties and, thereby, more directly affect how the practice under these treaties develops." During the hearing, the panel explicitly pointed to the ongoing effort in the CCW to create a "Protocol VI" that would address the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions. (See ACT, March 2008.)

During April 7-11, a group of experts convened in Geneva for the second time this year to discuss that topic. In an April 22 interview with Arms Control Today, Katherine Baker, a member of the U.S. delegation, said that "the tone has been very positive" and that there was "good movement forward." She particularly commended the efforts of delegations from Australia, Austria, and Japan in consolidating ideas on international cooperation and assistance, victim assistance, and international humanitarian law, respectively. In total, 97 states and 10 nongovernmental organizations took part in the meeting.

More detailed negotiations are expected to take place at the next CCW-related session July 7-25, the longest scheduled meeting of the year. Those and subsequent negotiations may result in a new protocol that could open for signature at the November 13-14 meeting of states-parties to the CCW.

At the same, a separate effort launched in Oslo last year continued with regional meetings on cluster munitions in Zambia March 31-April 1 and in Mexico April 16-17. As of May 2, 104 countries had endorsed the Oslo process's Wellington Declaration calling for a "prohibition on the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians." The declaration also affirms the objective of "concluding the negotiations of such an instrument" at a conference in Dublin scheduled for May 19-30.

The United States is not participating in the Oslo process in part because it worries that the final instrument may ban what it sees as legitimate uses for the weapons. At the Senate hearing, Charles Allen, Defense Department deputy general counsel, said that a U.S. review of future needs for cluster munitions should be completed within weeks.

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Cluster Munitions Treaty Hailed as Humanitarian Success by the Arms Control Association

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For Immediate Release: May 30, 2008
Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107, Wade Boese, (202) 463-8270 x104, or Jeff Abramson, (202) 463-8270 x109

(Washington, D.C.): Today, more than 100 countries in Dublin took an important step to make the world safer by reaching agreement on a treaty to outlaw nearly all cluster munitions, an indiscriminant weapon that has maimed and killed tens of thousands of noncombatants worldwide. Experts from the independent, nonpartisan Arms Control Association welcome the treaty as a humanitarian triumph and urge all governments to sign the accord and reduce wartime and post-conflict dangers to innocent civilians.

The Cluster Munitions Convention will save lives and prevent disabling injuries worldwide by prohibiting weapons that are not essential for the world’s military forces and that wreak a terrible human toll,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. He added, “All the governments and non-governmental groups that worked together in Dublin should be proud of this tremendous accomplishment, but the Norwegian government deserves special praise for taking the initiative when major powers failed to act.” 
   
In November 2006, Norway announced that it would lead an effort to limit cluster munitions after the United States, Russia, and some other countries party to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) refused at that time to initiate negotiations on those weapons, which are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse smaller submunitions over broad areas. Sometimes those submunitions initially fail to explode, posing potentially lethal risks to anyone that might later disturb them. The CCW subsequently initiated cluster munitions talks but with a narrower scope than those led by Norway.  

The so-called “Oslo process” began in 2007 and today unveiled a draft treaty that requires the destruction of all forbidden cluster munitions and the clearance of all areas afflicted with unexploded cluster submunition remnants. Future states-parties may only retain for combat cluster munitions that have five characteristics, such as self-destruct mechanisms, that diminish risks to noncombatants. The accord also includes measures for international assistance to victims of cluster munitions. Countries will be able to officially sign the treaty this December and then it will enter into force six months after 30 governments sign and ratify it.

“Although it did not participate in the Oslo process, the United States should join other countries later this year in signing the accord otherwise it will find itself on the wrong side of what is an emerging international humanitarian consensus,” said Jeff Abramson, a conventional weapons expert at the Arms Control Association.

For more information on conventional weapons, go to the Arms Control Association's Conventional Weapons Resource Page .

Cluster Munitions Talks Gain Steam

Miles A. Pomper

A Geneva-based multilateral forum on conventional weapons is showing some small signs of progress in restricting the use of controversial cluster munitions, as a separate international effort, spearheaded by Norway, appears to be gaining steam.

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse smaller submunitions over broad areas. These grenades or bomblets, sometimes numbering as many as 600 submunitions from a single munition, can fail to detonate immediately yet maim or kill if disturbed later.

British, Russian, and U.S. officials have said that some of these weapons need to be retained because they offer a unique military tool for dealing with dispersed or moving targets. For example, they say the weapons allow one pilot to hit a column of tanks in the open, rather than requiring many planes to undergo such dangerous flights. These countries have argued that the dangers of the weapons can be reduced by not using them in civilian areas and by cleaning them up faster, leaving fewer to affect civilians in a conflict’s aftermath. U.S. officials announced in January that the Pentagon was planning to create a quick reaction force that would have as a primary responsibility handling threats to civilians from unexploded cluster bombs and other explosive remnants of war.

Opponents of these weapons, such as the Red Cross and human rights organizations, say that, in practice, even the most advanced cluster munitions fail frequently and military officials use them without sufficient discrimination. The nongovernmental Cluster Munition Coalition claims that cluster munitions caused the greatest number of civilian casualties during the NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1999 and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The U.S. Department of State said these groups have exaggerated the problem. In a Feb. 15 fact sheet, the department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs said that, “[i]n almost every recent conflict—Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Iraq—the initial estimates regarding the degree of impact caused by cluster munitions have been grossly off the mark.”

Nonetheless, the fact sheet did not take issue with a UN assessment that cluster munitions caused significant casualties in Lebanon during Israel’s summer 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. That assessment concluded that Israel’s use of these weapons had led by December 2007 to 19 civilian deaths and another 170 injuries. UN officials said Israel fired as many as four million submunitions into Lebanon, leaving behind as many as one million submunitions that failed to explode initially.

In an effort to restrict the weapons, the 82 supporters of the Oslo process, launched at a February 2007 meeting in Norway, have formally agreed Feb. 22 to seek to finalize a treaty at a mid-May meeting that would ban the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions that “cause unacceptable harm to civilians.” (See ACT, January/February 2008. )

In a separate effort, 104 states-parties last November in Geneva agreed to consider efforts to augment the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to lessen the dangers posed by cluster munitions. (See ACT, December 2007. ) In January, a CCW experts group held its first discussions on what form such an adjustment could take. The most substantive outcome of the discussions was a text demarcating where different states stood in defining what constitutes cluster munitions as opposed to other weapons systems. This text will now form the basis of discussion as states seek to agree on a common definition.

A U.S. official said Feb. 12 that it was particularly noteworthy that this effort was led by Russia. Russia, along with China, had led the opposition to drafting a new legally binding protocol to the CCW on cluster munitions.

U.S. officials claim that Russia has shown a new willingness to “talk constructively.” A significant shift in the Russian position would be needed for the United States and the European Union to achieve their newly stated goal of completing a legally binding CCW protocol by November. U.S. officials hope to begin discussions on such a protocol during a one-week session in April, with a final debate taking place in July. Under the U.S. proposal, the July debate would follow the circulation of a proposed text by Ambassador Bent Wigotski of Denmark, who is chairing the cluster munitions discussions.

Getting to that goal will not be easy. China and Russia have resisted as too expensive and technologically demanding a centerpiece of the U.S. effort: trying to limit cluster munitions to those that have submunitions with a failure rate of 1 percent or less. That position has already found its way into U.S. law, as Congress in December 2007 approved a one-year prohibition on the export of cluster munitions with a failure rate of greater than 1 percent. Potential importers must also agree to use the weapons only “against clearly defined military targets” and where no civilians are present.

 China, Russia, and the United States are supporting only the CCW process. But some states, such as the United Kingdom, are also participating in the Oslo process. 

Still, how much support it might attract is unclear. Although nongovernmental organizations and some states, including Norway, championed a total ban during a Feb. 18-22 meeting in Wellington, New Zealand, other states involved in the process, particularly Australia and additional U.S. allies in Asia and Europe, favor lesser restrictions. One European diplomat in Geneva said Feb. 14 that if a total ban were to be approved, major European countries would not support it and “a lot of pressure will disappear on the CCW.”

 The diplomat said that “there is great discontent” that the concerns of these countries “have until now not been reflected in the text of the draft treaty.” In particular, some Europeans fret that “the core group within the Oslo process is continuing to strive toward a total ban, in deviation of the Oslo declaration with its position on ‘unacceptable harm.’”

These countries are particularly concerned that the ability of their militaries to carry out military operations in coordination with the United States could be hampered. That worry was reiterated in a conference call that Joseph Benkert, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for global security affairs, held with online journalists Feb. 11. Benkert said that if Oslo went forward with a total ban, a U.S. ally that signs the Oslo treaty might be seen as violating the treaty if it participated in a joint operation with U.S. forces and the U.S. forces employed cluster munitions. Many U.S. allies raised these concerns at the Wellington conference. To address such concerns in part, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan have said they would like a transitional period before any restrictions take effect.

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