The “Oslo agreement” on a ban on cluster munitions will be signed (ratified) in December. The road to a ban has been long. There has been a debate about what an agreement should look like, what types of cluster munitions should be banned, and which countries would join a possible agreement. The agreement shall ensure a categorical ban on all use, production, transfer and storage of cluster munitions. It also demands that the parties (signatory states) destroy their cluster munitions, clear affected areas and provide support to victims.
- What are cluster munitions?
- Why should cluster munitions be banned?
- What role has Norway played?
After two weeks of in-depth negotiations in Dublin, 111 states in May 2008 agreed on a historic agreement banning cluster munitions . The international agreement will finally be signed in Oslo on 3 December. The Norwegian government, led by Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, initiated a ban on cluster munitions as early as the autumn of 2006. The process began in Oslo in February 2007, where 46 states joined the Oslo Declaration to work out a ban on cluster munitions. .
The signing of the agreement is not the last step in the process. Many want more states to join the agreement. There are also many challenges associated with translating the agreement into concrete action.
2: Cluster weapon
There are many different types of cluster munitions. Such weapons can be released from the air or fired as rockets or artillery shells. A cluster bomb consists of a container, a ” mother bomb “, which contains many small bombs . The common feature of these weapons is a large number of smaller explosives – cluster munitions – which are collected in a container. These are activated and spread as the container opens just before it hits the ground (see figure).
In Iraq, the British used BL-755, an airborne cluster bomb. It contains 147 small bombs, which work both against armored vehicles and against people. A single bomb kills within a radius of 10 meters. The bombs also have a partially igniting effect. They spread over a large area and can thus hit civilians hard during the actual bombing.
But cluster munitions also have long-term consequences. One key problem is so-called ” blind people “. Many of the small bombs do not go off immediately, but will later be able to explode when touched. Figures from the clearing of BL-755 in Kosovo show around 10 percent blind people. Thus, 15 deadly explosives will be left on or under the ground after a single cluster bomb. But the number can also be higher. The error rate on cluster munitions that Israel used in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 is estimated at around 40 percent. This means that there are up to one million unexploded ordnance in southern Lebanon.
The blind gangs have the same effect as anti-personnel mines: they can continue to kill and maim civilians for many years after a conflict has ended. These pose a significant danger to the civilian population.
3: Humanitarian effects
It is the humanitarian effects of cluster munitions that have formed the basis for the demand for a ban. The organization Handicap International reports that 98 percent of all victims of cluster munitions are civilians . They are killed both by direct hits and by blind people, and cluster munitions can also be deadly for decades after the end of the war.
One foundation for the fight against cluster munitions lies in already existing international international law . International law recognizes that civilian injuries cannot be completely avoided, but requires that civilian casualties be accepted only when the military benefit is significant. This is called the principle of proportionality . In an international law assessment, the question of military utility becomes important, and when it comes to cluster munitions, the documentation of military utility is weak. It has gradually become clear that cluster munitions used under given conditions – as in densely populated areas – are contrary to the principle of proportionality because the consequences for the civilian population are so dramatic .
In addition to international law, there is also an expectation that military personnel should be willing to take significant risks in protecting civilians. This is a principle that is threatened, both in civil wars where the distinction between civilian and military status may be unclear, but also in interventions where soldiers fight far away from their own country. When the former British Minister of Defense Geoffrey Hoon was confronted with the British use of cluster munitions in Iraqi cities, the answer was that this happened “only when our forces were in danger”. Such reasoning is contrary to the ethical standards that professional military personnel are expected to live up to.
4: The story
The use of cluster munitions is nothing new. Cluster munitions were used as early as World War II, and to a relatively large extent during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. It is also not the first time someone has tried to get a ban on cluster munitions. As early as 1974, 13 countries made an attempt to establish a ban on cluster munitions. This initiative failed, and it would take over 30 years for the next attempt.
According to COMPUTERMINUS.COM, the issue of a ban has also been raised at the UN in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) without success. When the negotiations in CCW did not succeed in November 2006, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre called for an independent process, detached from the UN and CCW. There, the demand for consensus (unanimity) between all parties had hindered progress. Exactly the same thing happened with the landmine issue in 1997: After repeated rounds of negotiations in the CCW, Canada took the initiative for an independent process: Within a few months, the agreement on a ban on anti-personnel mines came into place.
But the fight against cluster munitions has been heavier than the work against landmines. The landmine campaign benefited from the fact that when the agreement finally came into place in 1997, a norm had been established that defined landmines as unacceptable weapons. The effects of anti-personnel mines were well known, and they made many people see the need for a ban.
When it came to cluster munitions, it took time to obtain an overview of both the scope and the effects. Today we can state that at least 23 countries (see map) have been hit by cluster munitions. There is still little systematic documentation and research on the consequences. We know too little about whether the social and economic consequences of cluster munitions are comparable to the consequences of landmines. More systematic data on cluster munitions at an early stage would probably have contributed to a sharper international focus.
5: Military benefit?
One of the difficult questions in the process that led to the ban was the military usefulness of cluster munitions. When the ban on anti-personnel mines came, there was agreement that landmines were no longer an important weapon, and that the weapon had limited use in modern warfare between states.
Cluster munitions, on the other hand, are a high-tech weapon that many in the military see as central. As recently as the summer of 2006, Israel used these weapons on a large scale during the last three days of the war in southern Lebanon. Other examples are the war in Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, the ongoing conflict in Iraq and Georgia in 2008.
It is claimed that because cluster munitions can cover a large area, the same precision is not required as with other types of weapons. From a military point of view, it is often emphasized that cluster munitions are a very effective weapon that is difficult to replace. They are effective while not exposing their own military personnel to great risk. Cluster bombs prevent movement in the enemy, and the bomb rain also has a strong psychological effect, often referred to as “shock and awe” – “shock and awe”. Many of the properties are the same as for anti-personnel mines, and in part cluster bombs are used today where one would previously use mines.