By Xin Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Cluster munitions have finally been banned.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) took effect on Aug. 1, when it became binding international law in countries around the world. To date, 107 states have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and 37 nations have ratified it. Unfortunately, the big boys — the U.S., Russia, and China — have not agreed to join this convention.
Thomas Nash, spokesman of the Cluster Munitions Coalition, witnessed a family tragedy: A mother was terribly injured by a cluster bomb explosion. It was buried in front her house for more than 30 years, and two of her children were killed.
“The cluster bomb is dangerous,” Mr. Nash explained, “[Compared with guided missiles] it attacks a much wider area; it creates massive and uncontrollable damage; most of its victims are civilians; so many of the bombs failed to explode when hitting on the ground, they are seriously threatening local inhabitants. Though the exact data of the global injuries from cluster bombs are unclear, we do know there are 300 victims yearly from cluster bombs in Laos; 3 months after the Lebanon cease-fire, there were 3 civilians being killed or injured every day.”
Mr. Nash was very optimistic about this treaty. He said: “This treaty is going to save people’s lives, protect them from being injured…we are celebrating this achievement, there will be drumming actions in 76 countries.”
Peter Herby, head of the mines/arms unit of the ICRC (International Committee for the Red Cross), considered this treaty fairly innovative in terms of the broader definition of cluster bomb victims. “The definition of victims is not limited to civilians who are physically hurt by cluster munitions, but their dependents and family members whose life will also be terribly affected.”
This treaty was initiated by NGOs, and the humanitarian progress that it marks is great and undeniable. This convention is still facing serious challenges, Mr. Herby admitted. cluster munitions are still considered an important weapon when attacking and threatening the enemy. The number of cluster bombs in existence is enormous. According to information provided by Mr. Nash, the United States has 800 million cluster bombs, Germany and the UK each have 50 million, and the number Russia and China has is unknown owing to their military secrecy. Mr. Herby remarked, “Most of those cluster munitions were designed and produced during the Cold War; they are over 40 years old, and should be eliminated just for military reasons.”
Along with the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the Geneva Convention, CCM will further ensure that cluster bombs are illegal in member nations. Regarding the absence in the treaty of three of the biggest cluster weapons producers and holders, Mr. Herby pointed out that this convention will make those countries who have not joined the treaty “consider or reconsider to ban this weapon.” This treaty has raised international awareness and a universal agreement on banning cluster bombs.
The proponents believe that with the influence this treaty has already established, the nations who have not joined will be pressured by the international civil society. Their political agendas would not be achieved if they were to use cluster weapons. Consequently, cluster bombs will less likely be used in future military actions and this will achieve the humanitarian purpose even if the treaty is lacking the participation of China, Russia, and the United States.
From Nov. 8-12, the first meeting of States Parties will be held in Vientiane, Laos PDR, which is the most severely bombed country in the world. A foundation will be laid for future engagement in the convention by bringing together the States Parties, UN agencies, international organizations, cluster bomb survivors, and other interest groups to the treaty for the first time. The CCM is encouraging member nations to develop action plans to implement the treaty. Meanwhile, the task of clearing unexploded bombs on the ground looms.
Xin Huang is a senior at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. He is participating in a summer internship in Geneva, Switzerland, where he is attending conferences at the United Nations.