By Daryl G. Kimball
Today in Geneva, delegations from over 100 nations ended a two week-long Review Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) without reaching agreement on a controversial proposal backed by the United States that would have legitimized the continued use of cluster munitions and undermined the existing 2008 Convention on Cluster Cluster Munitions (CCM).
According to early reports on the tense final day of the meeting, the CCW did not adopt a mandate for further work on cluster munitions. For nearly a decade, the body has discussed how to regulate cluster munitions and reduce their harm to civilian populations but has not reached agreement. The lack of progress prompted a number of states to pursue the “Oslo Process,” which led to the negotiation of the CCM.
The CCM mandates the clearance and destruction of virtually all existing types of cluster munitions. It also includes novel measures on victims’ human rights.
This year, the United States actively pushed a draft CCW protocol that would have prohibited some cluster munitions but would have allowed the use of others.
The core standards in the proposed draft CCW protocol, however, were less stringent than those already adopted by the United States, which does not transfer of cluster munitions with a failure rate of more than 1 percent directs the military not to use any cluster munitions against targets where civilians are known to be present.
Many CCM states and humanitarian organizations were also concerned that the adoption of a CCW protocol weaker than the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions would undermine the international norm against their use. They noted that their support for a weaker CCW protocol on cluster munitions would be inconsistent with Article 21 of the CCM, which obligates each member state to “promote the norms it [the CCM] establishes and … make its best efforts to discourage States not party … from using cluster munitions.”
On Nov. 21 cluster bomb survivor and CMC spokesperson Branislav Kapetanovic handed a petition of over 587,000 signatures to chair of the negotiations Ambassador Eric Danon, calling on governments to align any new agreement with the existing ban under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, ensuring this indiscriminate weapon continues to be comprehensively banned, and innocent lives protected. The petition, launched by Avaaz and the Cluster Munition Coalition, was signed by citizens in almost every country.
“When you look at this draft compared to the Oslo Convention, in a way it is going back on standards already set on the level of international humanitarian law,” Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told Reuters, Nov. 9.
Of the 119 countries that have joined the CCW, 76 have also joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions so are already bound by the higher standards it contains.
On the final day of the CCW conference, the United States and France attempted to make last minute adjustments to the proposed protocol, but failed to convince a group of over 50 states, including Austria, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Norway, that expressed the view that the revised, U.S.-backed proposal did not fully address their fundamental concerns, did not prohibit use of cluster munitions, and would not have provided sufficient humanitarian value, and does not command consensus, they said
It is not often that the failure to reach agreement on an arms control issue is good news, but in this case, it is. The draft CCW protocol would have legitimized the use of the most dangerous types of cluster munitions for years to come and allowed the indefinite use of cluster munitions that can produce significant harm to non-combatants.
In the aftermath of this month’s CCW conference, states not party to the CCM—particularly the United States–could still make a contribution through national actions, such as immediate transfer prohibitions, the elimination of old cluster munitions stockpiles, and vigorous implementation of the CCW’s Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War, which was adopted in 2003.