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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Conventional Arms Control

Mine Ban Meeting Focuses on Victims

January/February 2016

By Jeff Abramson

More than 15 years after bringing the Mine Ban Treaty into force, states-parties to the accord met late last year in Geneva at a gathering that celebrated continued success while recognizing that the goal of a mine-free world has not been reached and highlighting the ongoing needs of victims.

At the Nov. 30-Dec. 4 meeting, the parties also reiterated their condemnation of any use of the indiscriminate weapons.

More than 90 of the 162 parties to the treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, attended the meeting, where they welcomed statements from Finland that it had completed destroying its landmine stockpile and from Mozambique that it had finished clearing all known landmine contamination.

They also highlighted commitments to people affected by landmines with a high-level session on victim assistance on the first day of the gathering. Led by Princess Astrid of Belgium, a special envoy of the Mine Ban Treaty, the discussion included statements by survivors of mine accidents in Afghanistan, Colombia, Mozambique, Thailand, and Uganda who have become leading advocates of victim assistance. Throughout the week, many delegates reiterated the need for continued victim support and involvement implicit in a session-framing question that Astrid posed in her remarks. “[M]ore countries will follow the example of Mozambique and will become ‘mine free,’ but will they become ‘victim free’ as well?” she asked.

The treaty requires states able to do so to provide “assistance for the care and rehabilitation, including the social and economic reintegration, of mine victims,” a novel commitment for weapons-related treaties when it was opened for signature in 1997.

Also central to the treaty is its ban on so-called victim-activated landmines, which detonate due to “the presence, proximity or contact of a person.” Certain victim-activated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have been the cause of many recent casualties, especially in Afghanistan, are considered to fall under the treaty’s definition of antipersonnel landmines. The treaty does not ban landmines detonated by remote control.

Since the treaty entered into force in 1999, very few governments have used landmines banned by the agreement. Forces in Myanmar, North Korea, and Syria—all states not party to the accord—used the weapons between October 2014 and October 2015, according to the annual Landmine Monitor report. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a civil society coalition, released the report just prior to the meeting.

The report also found that nonstate actors had used landmines or IEDs that act as landmines during the same period in 10 countries: Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia, Ukraine, and Yemen. The last time the Landmine Monitor found nonstate groups using landmines in at least 10 countries was in 2006.

Parties addressed new use of landmines in the meeting’s final report, where they “condemned the use of antipersonnel mines by any actor.”

Ten states that are not treaty parties attended the meeting, with Sri Lanka indicating it might be the next country to join the accord. The United States, another nonparty, reiterated its policies, first announced in 2014, that ban the use of landmines outside the Korean peninsula and set a goal of “ultimately” acceding to the treaty. (See ACT, October 2014.)

The Notorious Mr. Bout

Referred to as the “Merchant of Death,” Viktor Bout provided weapons to some of the world’s deadliest conflicts for more than 20 years. Used by governments large and small, rebel groups, and other undesirable actors, Bout’s name is synonymous with the shadowy world of international arms brokers. Though Bout came to represent the dark underpinnings of the global arms trade, a recent documentary provides a somewhat more intimate view of his global enterprise. Based primarily upon footage from Bout’s home video collection, The Notorious Mr. Bout gives viewers a glimpse of the man, husband,...

Mozambique Declared Free of Landmines

October 2015

By Jefferson Morley

A demining expert from the nongovernmental group Apopo searches for landmines in Tete province in Mozambique on November 20, 2013. (Photo credit: Apopo)Mozambique is “free of all known landmines,” Foreign Minister Oldemiro Júlio Marques Balói announced at a public event in the capital city of Maputo on Sept. 17.

The deadly anti-personnel mines, laid by all sides during a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1992, made Mozambique into one of the most mined countries in the world. The government estimated recently that as many as 10,900 people had been killed or injured by landmines in the past 40 years.

The Mozambican landmine removal is “an impressive achievement,” said Megan Burke, director of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, in a Sept. 17 statement. “It also shows that if the right resources are employed in the right way, the majority of contaminated states can complete mine clearance within the next ten years.”

The first large-scale mine clearance effort in Mozambique was launched by the United Nations in 1993. The Halo Trust, a Scottish nongovernmental organization dedicated to landmine clearance, supported the effort. Halo said it has cleared more than 171,000 landmines from more than 1,100 minefields in Mozambique over the past 22 years, using manual and mechanical demining methods.

Apopo, a Belgian group involved in landmine clearance, said that it had assisted five provinces in the southern African country in eliminating the weapons since 2008. The group said that it had destroyed a total of 13,274 landmines, returning more than 11 million square meters of land to safe and productive use.

Landmine clearance “gives the children of this country a safe and peaceful life,“ said Cindy McCain, chairman of Halo’s U.S. chapter in a video released to commemorate the event.

Mozambique is “free of all known landmines,” Foreign Minister Oldemiro Júlio Marques Balói announced at a public event...

States Denounce Cluster Munitions Use

October 2015

By Jefferson Morley

A man in the northern Syrian town of Taftanaz grasps a cluster bomb casing on November 9, 2012. (Photo credit: Philippe Desmazes /AFP/Getty Images)In response to reports of cluster munition attacks in conflicts around the world, scores of countries supporting the global ban on the explosive weapons categorically condemned their use in a declaration issued Sept. 11 in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

“We are deeply concerned by any and all allegations, reports or documented evidence of the use of cluster munitions, including in Cambodia, Libya, Myanmar, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine and Yemen,” said the parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). “We condemn any use of cluster munitions by any actor.”

The 95 states-parties to the CCM, along with 23 signatory nations and numerous civil society groups, met Sept. 7-11 to review and assess the accomplishments of the treaty. The Dubrovnik meeting was the first review conference under the treaty, which entered into force on August 1, 2010. The CCM bans the possession and use of munitions that eject explosive bomblets designed to kill people and destroy vehicles.        

For advocates of a cluster munitions ban, the consensus declaration threw a spotlight on the policy of the U.S. government, which is destroying its cluster munitions stockpiles but has not renounced their use. The United States, which has not signed the CCM, is currently supporting the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, where Human Rights Watch has documented the repeated use of U.S.-manufactured cluster munitions. “Although the evidence is not definitive, several factors indicate that the Saudi-led coalition carried out the seven attacks,” the nongovernmental group stated in an Aug. 26 report. The attacks involving U.S.-made munitions have killed or wounded “dozens of civilians” since April, according to the group.

Representatives of Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom—all U.S. military allies—asked for modification of the declaration’s categorical condemnation of all cluster munitions use. The wording, Canada said, “poses problems for States Parties who undertake military cooperation and operations with non-Parties, which the Convention permits us to do.” Article 21 of the CCM states that parties to the treaty “may engage in military cooperation and operations with States not party to this Convention that might engage in activities prohibited to a State Party.”

“The proposed changes also seem driven by a desire to create space—political and legal space—for the United States to use cluster munitions in the future,” said a Sept. 8 statement from Human Rights Watch on behalf of the Cluster Munition Coalition..

Thomas Nash of Article 36, a UK nongovernmental organization, said the “bizarre and isolated legal contortions by the UK, together with Australia and Canada, were hopelessly out of step with the mood and determination of the Review Conference to prevent any further use of cluster munitions by any actor.”

After the three countries and Lithuania expressed concerns, the unmodified declaration was approved by acclamation.

Signs of Progress

Many representatives of the 117 countries that have signed or ratified the CCM hailed the treaty for exceeding expectations born on its entry into force five years ago.

“Eighty percent of reported cluster munition stockpiles have already been destroyed,” Steffen Kongstad of Norway said, with “most states-parties achieving their targets much faster and at a significantly lower cost than some experts kept insisting on some years ago.”

Ambassador Jorge Lomónaco of Mexico congratulated Canada, Guinea, Guyana, Iceland, Palestine, Paraguay, Rwanda, Slovakia, and South Africa for joining the CCM in the past year. Their accession, he said, demonstrated “the vitality and strength of the regime that prohibits the use of these indiscriminate and inhuman weapons.”

Rodolfo Benítez Verson, chief of the Cuban delegation to the conference, announced Sept. 8 that his government was taking steps to join the treaty “shortly.”

“Today I can inform this Conference that Cuba is carrying out the required constitutional procedures for the accession of our country to the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” Benítez Verson said to applause.

The change comes as Washington and Havana are seeking to normalize long-frozen diplomatic relations. In past years, Cuba had declined to join the cluster munitions ban because it does not forbid U.S.-made munitions that are equipped with self-destruction and self-deactivation mechanisms, an exception that Havana said favored developed countries at the expense of poorer countries. In Dubrovnik, Benítez Verson repeated Cuban concerns about the “dangerous” language of the treaty’s Article 21, which permits CCM parties to the treaty to engage in military operations with countries that are not parties. He said Cuba will continue to press its views when it becomes a state-party to the treaty.

Work to Do

Nguyen Trung Thanh of Vietnam, attending as an observer, said his country could not afford to take on the treaty’s obligations, although Vietnam is one of the countries most contaminated with cluster munitions.

“In the best scenario,” he said, the job of clearing the munitions from 6.6 million hectares (16 million acres) of contaminated Vietnamese land and then destroying the weapons would require “more than a hundred years” and “many billions of dollars.”

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican representative to the United Nations, called on CCM parties “to find a fair and equitable model” to fund the treaty’s implementation.

Correction: The original online version of this article erroneously attributed a quotation to the Cluster Munition Monitor. The source of the quotation is a Sept. 8 statement from Human Rights Watch on behalf of the Cluster Munition Coalition.

Reports from Ukraine, Yemen, and other countries with civil conflicts prompted parties to the 2010 global ban on deadly explosives to condemn their use.

Getting to Know Ryan Gariepy

Interviewed by Jefferson Morley

Ryan Gariepy, shown in this 2014 photo, is co-founder of Clearpath Robotics. (Courtesy of Ryan Gariepy)“Getting to Know” is an occasional series that introduces Arms Control Today readers to interesting people active in the world of arms control.

Many people are worried about the prospect of lethal autonomous weapons systems, popularly known as “killer robots,” entering the battlefields of the world’s many armed conflicts. But not many of the critics of lethal autonomous systems know how to design and build high-tech robots. Enter Ryan Gariepy, the 28-year-old co-founder and chief technical officer of Clearpath Robotics, based in Kitchener, Canada. Last year, the fast-growing firm, with a workforce of 100, established a company policy of not accepting any work related to the building of robotics for lethal autonomous systems. In June, Gariepy was among 1,000-plus people from the world of artificial intelligence research and design, including famed physicist Stephen Hawking and inventor Elon Musk, who signed a statement calling for a ban on lethal autonomous systems. Gariepy is perhaps the first high-tech entrepreneur to make that position part of his business plan.

Arms Control Today caught up with Gariepy by telephone at his office in Kitchener. The interview, conducted by Jefferson Morley, has been edited for length and clarity.

Where did Clearpath come from?

From the University of Waterloo, a very strong engineering and math school in Ontario. Three of us were on a student robotics team, and we just saw a lot of potential in the things we were building. So after we graduated, we started a company.

It says on your website “The Future is Autonomous.” What are you getting at there?

The promise of unmanned systems, or autonomous systems or artificial intelligence systems, is to really free people from what is known, in the robotics community, as “dull, dirty, and dangerous” jobs.

Is the future of warfare autonomous?

We recognize the value that unmanned systems can bring to service members and keeping people out of harm’s way. The question is, can we not make sure that there is always an element of human involvement when a system decides to take lethal force?

How did you get interested in this issue?

We are always out there trying to extol the benefits of autonomous systems to companies and governments worldwide. But sometimes you run into a use case where you say, “Maybe this isn’t the best place for robotics.” It might not make business sense; or in this case, it may not be a humane thing to do, and it may be an incredibly risky way to deploy autonomous systems. Just like we look at the impact of our systems in a positive aspect, we also look at the negative aspect.

We saw the issue coming up more and more. In 2013 there was the “Losing Humanity” report by Human Rights Watch. Previous to that, you had Peter W. Singer’s book “Wired for War.” Before that, you had Ron Arkin’s textbook, “Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots.”

We are also seeing that robotics research is no longer being primarily driven by the military. People are approaching the issue as if the governments have the most say on what research is done. But robotics these days is quickly being dominated by private industry.

So if governments do not recognize the potential, good or bad, for this technology, then you might see that the technology is going to exist in a short time frame, certainly shorter than the international community can act on.

Does Clearpath have contracts with the U.S. or Canadian military?

We do work with the Canadian government and with the research arms of the U.S. Navy, Army, and Air Force.

What do you think of the term “killer robots”?

The term certainly brought the public’s eyes to the issue. The impact of that should not be underestimated. Personally, I prefer to say “lethal autonomous weapons systems,” but that’s because I’m an engineer.

What has been the reaction to Clearpath’s position on lethal autonomous systems?

Many of the skilled people, the engineers applying for jobs with us, have expressed interest in the issue, and we weren’t expecting that. We are expecting that the company might have a partial loss in military contracts at some point. We didn’t expect the level of public support we’ve gotten.

ATT Parties Hold First Conference

By Jefferson Morley

Former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias addresses the first conference of states-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty in Cancún, Mexico, on August 24. (Elizabeth Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images)Representatives of 130 countries last month adopted measures to implement the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which seeks to regulate the estimated $100 billion global trade in weapons.

Held in the Mexican city of Cancún, the first conference of states-parties to the ATT picked Geneva as the site of the organization’s headquarters, chose Simeon Dumisani Dladla of South Africa as the interim leader of the treaty’s secretariat, and decided that major decisions about implementation will require a two-thirds majority.

But the conference postponed a decision on the key issue of what participating countries will be required to report about their arms transfers, disappointing activists seeking to curb the weapons that fuel civil conflict and crime worldwide.

The ATT, adopted by the UN General Assembly in April 2013, entered into force in December 2014. A key requirement of the pact is that countries develop national reporting systems on the import, export, and diversion of conventional arms.

The ATT “offers the promise of a more peaceful world,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a video message on Aug. 24, the first day of the conference. “I commend those states that are promoting responsible arms transfers, and I salute civil society for pushing this process from the very beginning.”

The differences between the governments seeking to regulate the often lucrative arms trade according to international norms and the governments and civil society groups seeking to curtail the arms transfers that stoke deadly conflicts around the world emerged in opening statements from attendees.

“I am concerned about the gap...between the duty to ensure respect for international humanitarian law in arms transfers and the actual transfer practices of too many states,” said Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in another Aug. 24 video address to the conference.

“Every year, millions of ordinary people have their lives devastated by conflict in war-torn countries such as Yemen and South Sudan, as well as in areas of high armed violence such as Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Anna Macdonald, director of Control Arms, a global coalition of civil society groups seeking to control the weapons trade.

But in an Aug. 25 statement, Thomas Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation and leader of the U.S. delegation, said the roles of governments and civil society at the Cancún meeting were not the same.

“We are here to breathe life into this Treaty by standing up its international operation,” he said. Countryman added that the ATT “contains obligations for States Parties, not for other entities. The decisions made here must reflect this fact. Civil society and industry played important roles during the negotiation, but neither one can join the Treaty. Only States Parties can.”

Civil society groups could not persuade treaty participants to agree on a common template for reporting arms transfers or on mandatory disclosure of the reports. Activists said a failure to adopt those elements would undermine the treaty’s goals.

“Without having external eyes looking on the [arms] trade, you have the risk of setting up a cozy club where everybody agrees not to rock the boat too much,” said Roy Isbister of Safer World, a UK group that seeks to prevent violent conflicts, in an Aug. 19 interview with Arms Control Today.

The treaty requires all parties to submit an initial report by December on their efforts to comply with the treaty and to file an annual report on their arms imports and exports and their efforts to prevent diversion.

The ATT, first proposed by a group of Nobel Peace Prize laureates in 1997, has been ratified by 72 countries, including five of the world’s top 10 arms exporting countries. The United States, by far the largest arms producer and exporter, is among 58 additional countries that have signed but not ratified the treaty. 

The first conference of states-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty grappled with practical measures intended to curb diversion of weapons that fuel deadly conflicts.

France Pays to Settle Mistral Dispute

By Jefferson Morley

Ending a 10-month-long impasse, French President François Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Aug. 5 to sever a 2011 contract in which France had committed to selling Russia two Mistral-class amphibious landing ships.

The contract is worth 1.2 billion euros (about $1.3 billion), according to French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. It became controversial after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and began arming separatists fighting the Ukrainian government. On the eve of a meeting of NATO allies in September 2014, Hollande demanded that Russia agree to a ceasefire and a political settlement as a condition for scheduled delivery of the first ship in November 2014.

When no ceasefire materialized, France and Russia entered into negotiations early this year to dissolve the financial arrangement.

“The price in the [termination] agreement, which is the best possible, will be less as Russia will be repaid to the nearest euro the advance payments that have been made,” Le Drian told a radio reporter Aug. 6.

Reuters reported that France had offered a settlement of $866 million. Russia has asked for compensation of $1.28 billion, according to the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant.

A French official told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 18 e-mail that the exact amount of the settlement is not public information but will be shared this fall with the French Parliament, which has to ratify the settlement. The official said the French compensation “will be inferior to what Russia has spent” and therefore less than $1.3 billion.

Hollande’s statement on the cancellation agreement made no mention of Russian military intervention in Ukraine. The French president said he and Putin agreed that the negotiation took place in “a warm, open climate of partnership,” adding that he and Putin “agreed that the matter was now closed.”

Cluster Munitions Use in Yemen Reported

July/August 2015

By Jefferson Morley

Pictured above are remnants of an air-dropped cluster munition and unexploded BLU-97 submunitions found in northern Yemen on May 23, according to Human Rights Watch.(© 2015 Basset al-Sharafi)Reports of cluster munitions use in the conflict in Yemen remain under investigation, according to the U.S. State Department. 

Two cluster munitions attacks in Yemen injured seven people, six of them civilians, according to a May 31 report by Human Rights Watch. The attacks took place in areas held by Houthi insurgents, whose ouster of the Yemeni government triggered a military campaign by a coalition of armed forces led by neighboring Saudi Arabia, according to Human Rights Watch.

“We take all such allegations seriously and we’re continuing our review of the claims made in this report,” a State Department official said in a June 19 e-mail. Asked if the U.S. government had communicated these concerns to Saudi Arabia, the official said the United States “remain[s] in close coordination” with the Saudis “on a wide range of issues.”

In a June 8 e-mail, Ole Solvang, an investigator for Human Rights Watch, emphasized that the fighting in Yemen made it difficult to determine who was responsible for the use of cluster munitions. Although the group has “a very incomplete picture,” what it has seen “is quite worrying,” Solvang said. Human Rights Watch has documented the use of three types of cluster munitions, he said. 

U.S.-made cluster munitions, containing BLU-97 submunitions, were used in at least two attacks on May 23, according to reports cited by Human Rights Watch.

On the basis of photographs, the group identified one of the weapons used in an April 29 attack near the Saudi border as a type of ground-fired cluster munition containing “ZP-39” submunitions with a distinctive red ribbon. The ZP-39’s producer and the delivery system used are not publicly known, according to Human Rights Watch.

On April 27, aircraft of the Saudi-led coalition dropped a U.S.-made cluster munition, the CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon, on a village south of the Houthi stronghold of Saada, said Human Rights Watch, citing the reports it had received.

Saudi Arabia and Yemen, like the United States, are not signatories to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, the international treaty banning the weapons. The treaty has been ratified by 92 countries and signed by 24 more.

Reports of cluster munitions use in the conflict in Yemen remain under investigation, according to the U.S. State Department. 

Debate on Autonomous Weapons Resumes

May 2015

By Jefferson Morley

Experts convene in Geneva for an April 14 session of the week-long meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems. (UN Geneva)Representatives of 88 countries discussed the specter of robotic warfare at an April 13-17 meeting in Geneva, finding widespread agreement on the importance of controlling weapons that can automatically target and kill people without human control but failing to reach consensus on how to do that. 

The informal experts meeting, called by the parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) last November, was the second multinational conference held on the lethal autonomous weapons systems. The first meeting was held in Geneva last May. (See ACT, June 2014.)

A small group of states, including Cuba, Ecuador, the Holy See, and Pakistan continued to call for a ban on the autonomous systems that civil society groups have dubbed “killer robots.” In a statement to the gathering, Irfan Mahmood Bokhari of Pakistan said further development and use of such weapons systems “must be pre-emptively banned through a dedicated protocol of the CCW.” 

Other countries called for action short of a ban. 

“As a step forward at this stage,” Sweden’s delegation said in its opening statement, “we would encourage transparency and propose information-sharing measures among interested states.” A representative of Poland said, “It would seem at least advisable to...prevent transfers of such systems and their components to undesirable end users.” 

But Michael Meier, the State Department official who headed the U.S. delegation, urged the meeting to “focus on increasing our understanding versus trying to decide possible outcomes.”

Six civil society groups (Article 36, Human Rights Watch, International Committee for Robot Arm Control, Mines Action Canada, PAX, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) called for the prohibition of lethal autonomous systems. 

The multinational debate on lethal autonomous weapons was triggered by a May 2013 report, written by Christof Heyns, a South African jurist who serves as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions. The report called for a moratorium on the building of such weapons. In a speech to last month’s conference, Heyns welcomed what he called “an emerging consensus that the notion of meaningful human control presents a guide to distinguish acceptable forms” of autonomous weapons. 

In his draft final report on the meeting, chairman Michael Biontino of Germany said that “there was a general understanding that the debate needs further deepening. Delegations supported the idea that the CCW was the right forum for a continuation of the discussions, with some delegations indicating that other fora could complement the CCW debate.” 

The parties to the CCW will meet in Geneva in November.

Cluster Munitions Kill 13 in Ukraine

April 2015

By Jefferson Morley

Russian-backed separatist forces and beleaguered Ukrainian government troops traded cluster munition attacks in January that killed 13 civilians, according to reports received by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe and confirmed by Human Rights Watch.

In one reported attack in Artemivsk, a government-controlled city near Donetsk, a woman and a boy were killed on a playground. In Komsomolske, a village about 40 kilometers southeast of Donetsk, a father and his 10-year-old son were killed as they walked on a street in the late evening.

In a March 25 interview, Human Rights Watch investigator Ole Solvang said he was “highly confident” that both sides in the Ukraine conflict had used the deadly air-dropped explosives that indiscriminately spray sharp bomblets over a wide area in a single blast.

The Ukrainian military denies using cluster munitions in crowded urban areas. Separatist forces and the Russian government have categorically denied use of cluster of munitions in the Ukraine conflict. Neither Ukraine nor Russia is a signatory to the global treaty banning the use of cluster munitions.

Solvang said that he had presented information gathered from witnesses and authorities in seven towns to the representatives of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and military prosecutors.

As for the attacks emanating from rebel-held areas, Solvang said the perpetrators could not be identified. “Were they from rebel forces or from Russian forces operating in rebel-held areas? We don’t know,” he said.

Russian-backed separatist forces and beleaguered Ukrainian government troops traded cluster munition attacks in January that killed 13 civilians, according to reports...

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