111 nations, but not US, adopt cluster bomb treaty

Other News Materials 31 May 2008 02:17 (UTC +04:00)

(AP) - Chief negotiators of a landmark treaty banning cluster bombs predicted Friday that the United States will never again use the weapons, a critical component of American air and artillery power.

The treaty formally adopted Friday by 111 nations, including many of America's major NATO partners, would outlaw all current designs of cluster munitions and require destruction of stockpiles within eight years. It also opens the possibility that European allies could order U.S. bases located in their countries to remove cluster bombs from their stocks.

The United States and other leading cluster bomb makers - Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan - boycotted the talks, emphasized they would not sign the treaty and publicly shrugged off its value. All defended the overriding military value of cluster bombs, which carpet a battlefield with dozens to hundreds of explosions.

But treaty backers - who long have sought a ban because cluster bombs leave behind "duds" that later maim or kill civilians - insisted they had made it too politically painful for any country to use the weapons again.

"The country that thinks of using cluster munitions next week should think twice, because it would look very bad," said Espen Barth Eide, Deputy Defense Minister of Norway, which began the negotiations last year and will host a treaty-signing ceremony Dec. 3.

"We're certain that nations thinking of using cluster munitions won't want to face the international condemnation that will rain down upon them, because the weapons have been stigmatized now," said Steve Goose, arms control director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, who was involved in the talks.

However, the treaty envisions their future use - and offers legal protection to any signatory nation that finds itself operating alongside U.S. forces deploying cluster bombs, shells and rockets.

The treaty specifies - in what backers immediately dubbed "the American clause" - that members "may engage in military cooperation and operations" with a nation that rejects the treaty and "engages in activities prohibited" by the treaty.

It suggests that a treaty member could call in support from U.S. air power or artillery using cluster munitions, so long as the caller does not "expressly request the use of cluster munitions."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the treaty would not change U.S. policy and cluster munitions remain "absolutely critical and essential" to U.S. military operations.

He said U.S. officials in the State and Defense departments were studying whether the treaty would eventually oblige American bases in Europe to withdraw cluster munitions.

Goose said this decision would be up to individual U.S. allies. The treaty, he noted, requires nations that ratify it to eliminate all cluster weapons within their "jurisdiction or control."

He said most NATO members were likely to conclude that U.S. bases were operating under their jurisdiction and order U.S. cluster munitions to be removed or destroyed, while Germany and Japan were most likely to permit the weapons stocks to remain.

U.S. defense analysts said the treaty drafters do not appreciate the importance that the world's most powerful militaries place on cluster munitions. They doubted that the treaty would force any American retreat on the matter, noting that a majority of U.S. artillery shells use cluster technology.

"This is a treaty drafted largely by countries which do not fight wars," said John Pike, a defense analyst and director of GlobalSecurity.org.

"Treaties like this make me want to barf. It's so irrelevant. Completely feel-good," he said.

Asked whether U.S. forces would ever ban or restrict cluster-bomb technology, Pike said, "It's not gonna happen. Our military is in the business of winning wars and using the most effective weapons to do so."

Ivan Oelrich, vice president for strategic security programs at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said he expected U.S. forces to keep using shells, rockets and bombs that break apart into smaller explosive objects because they have 10 times or more killing power than traditional munitions, particularly against troops in exposed terrain or in foxholes.

Government and military spokesmen in other cluster bomb-defending nations were similarly dismissive of the treaty.

" Russia will not ban cluster bombs and land mines," Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Buzhinsky said earlier this week in Moscow. "We stand for evolutionary development of these weapons. Russia's Defense Ministry objects to radical and prohibitive measures of this kind."

The treaty spells out future requirements for legal cluster weapons.

Each would have to contain no more than nine weapons inside, known formally as "submunitions." Each submunition must weigh at least 8.8 pounds, or four kilograms, have technology that allows it to identify a specific human or armored target, and contain electronic fail-safes to ensure that any duds cannot detonate later.

Patricia Lewis, director of the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research, said the weight rule represented "a very neat and clever way of closing off a loophole."

"In the future, things weighing less than four kilograms could be designed that would give a large explosive impact, so the idea is to prevent future developments," Lewis told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.

But U.S. analysts derided the conditions as illogical.

Both Oelrich and Pike said it would be technically possible to design new cluster munitions that meet all of the treaty's criteria - but questioned why the treaty sought to limit the number of devices per shell, rocket or bomb.

Oelrich said the treaty's insistence on electronic fail-safes ignored the possibility of producing submunitions encased in metals that rapidly deteriorate when exposed to sun or moisture, depending on the theater of war.

"I don't see the point of the `nine' thing," Oelrich said. "What difference does it make how you package the submunition? What matters is the performance of the submunition on the ground. And nobody in any military wants duds."

Pike said if other countries insist on shells, rockets and bombs that contain no more than nine submunitions each, the military logic would be inescapable.

"It would just mean I'm going to have to shoot more of them!" he said with a laugh.