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Experts see big holes in cluster bomb ban

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080529/wl_nm/clusterbombs_treaty_dc Experts see big holes in cluster bomb ban By Luke Baker Thu May 29, 10:33 AM ET LONDON
    Message 1 of 1 , May 29, 2008
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080529/wl_nm/clusterbombs_treaty_dc

      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
      unworkable.

      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
      victims.

      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
      Irish capital.

      "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
      deal.

      British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pushed hard for a
      ban, even though the British military often employs
      cluster bombs.

      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)
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