Experts see big holes in cluster bomb ban
By Luke Baker Thu May 29, 10:33 AM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - An agreement banning cluster bombs
has cheered human rights campaigners, but powerful
military states are refusing to join it and experts
say the treaty is riddled with holes that make it
The agreement, to be formalized in Dublin on Thursday,
commits 111 countries to banning cluster munitions --
"bomblets" that are scattered from planes or by
artillery shells and that detonate like mines.
The campaign to ban them, like that against landmines
a decade ago, has been impassioned. Opponents express
outrage at the indiscriminate nature of the weapons,
which often lie unexploded for months or years until
accidentally trodden on. Children are frequently the
But the United States, China and Russia have not
joined the treaty, and while Britain and other NATO
states have championed it, the deal has loopholes that
would allow troops of a signatory state to benefit
from an ally like Washington using the weapons.
"This is an absolutely rock-solid treaty that's going
to outlaw a lethal munition," said Mark Garlasco, an
analyst at Human Rights Watch, pleased with what he
saw as the fruitful outcome of 10 days of talks in the
"This is going to outlaw 99.9 percent of the cluster
munitions out there ... which will stigmatize the
weapon even for those countries that aren't
signatories to the ban."
Despite that confidence, however, Garlasco and other
campaigners acknowledge that the treaty, due to be
signed in Oslo in December, has clauses that soften
its impact, leaving it with significant moral weight
but arguably less substance.
"There are a number of countries that are important
military powers that have not signed this treaty,"
conceded Thomas Nash of umbrella group Cluster
Munition Coalition. But he added:
"What you will see is a very profound stigmatization
of this weapon ... Countries like the United States
are not going to be able to use cluster munitions in
the future without facing a huge public backlash."
"FULL OF HOLES"
The United States, the world's largest military power,
has made clear it intends to go on using the bombs
when it sees fit.
"While the United States shares the humanitarian
concerns of those in Dublin, cluster munitions have
demonstrated military utility," State Department
spokesman Tom Casey said on Wednesday, adding that to
join the ban would put U.S. soldiers' lives at risk.
Israel, which made widespread use of cluster bombs
during its 2006 war with Hezbollah in southern
Lebanon, has reiterated its intention to go on using
them, and India and Pakistan are also notable
non-signatories of the treaty.
Article 21 of the agreement would, for example, permit
British troops to call in U.S. air support that might
include planes dropping cluster bombs, although
British forces would not themselves use them.
"The whole thing is like a Gruyere cheese -- it's
completely full of holes," said Nigel Inkster, an
analyst at the International Institute for Strategic
Studies in London.
"If you think that a person with a very real threat in
front of them, a threat that would be alleviated by
the use of cluster bomb munitions, isn't going to use
them ... it's a no-brainer.
"It just seems empty in so many ways," he said of the
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pushed hard for a
ban, even though the British military often employs
A Foreign Office spokesman attending the talks played
down suggestions Brown had overridden military
objections to sign up to the treaty, and said Britain
now hoped to use its position to persuade others to
agree to the ban.
"We hope that by the position we've adopted others may
eventually follow suit," he said.
"The U.S.-British alliance and the ability to work
with our allies is critical, and article 21 is very
helpful on that."
(Additional reporting by Andras Gergely in Dublin and
Dan Williams in Jerusalem; editing by Andrew Roche)