Banning Cluster Bombs: Where Will U.S. Stand? -- An International Treaty to Ban Cluster Munitions: Is There a Strategy for Responsible U.S. Engagement? (US)

Introduction This paper discusses policy options for the United States regarding its involvement in the fast-moving international initiative led by Norway ' called the "Oslo Process" ' to shape a treaty before the end of 2008 that would ban cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. At this late date, there appears to be a surprising lack of awareness within the affected U.S. policy communities on this issue, and consequently, this paper seeks to encourage informed discussions in Washington and elsewhere.


The proposed ban on cluster munitions has spurred heated debate internationally since the Oslo Process was launched in February 2007.(1) There is no single agreed-upon definition of cluster munitions. Article 2 of the draft Cluster Munitions Convention, a product of the Oslo process, defines a cluster munition as "a munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive sub-munitions, and includes those explosive sub-munitions." Generally, such munitions are air- or ground-launched canisters holding up to 650 sub-munitions or bomblets that are distributed in a footprint with a radius of roughly 300 meters to destroy enemy targets dispersed in the area.(2)

The debate on the proposed ban places military utility against compelling humanitarian concerns:
- Cluster munitions have proven to be highly effective in combat settings against various targets and consequently, the armed forces of many states have acquired and used substantial numbers of bombs, missiles, rockets and artillery shells that would likely fall under this proposed ban.(3)
- However, in combat settings cluster munitions pose a particular deadly threat to civilians when used around populated areas due to their typically large lethal footprint, and in post-conflict settings the use of these munitions has caused many tragic injuries and deaths to civilians as unexploded sub-munitions left behind are often found by children and other unsuspecting innocents.

The Oslo Process ' with 122 participating governments ' is expected to result in a treaty for signature during calendar year 2008. In particular, final negotiations are planned for Dublin, between May 19 and May 30, during which time the parties will "adopt a legally binding instrument prohibiting cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians."(4)

The Bush administration has not participated in the Oslo Process. Instead, it has sought to accelerate negotiations in the traditional international forum, the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva, to impose international restrictions on weapons including cluster munitions. However, the CCW process is slow-paced, and therefore will likely be overtaken by the Oslo Process with the adoption of a treaty in 2008.

Recent U.S. government experience with similar treaty initiatives is mixed ' recall the international campaigns to ban anti-personnel landmines (1997), to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC) (1998), and to ban child soldiers (2000). It is now conventional wisdom in policy circles that the U.S. government poorly handled the first two of these initiatives, with the result being treaties that have been ratified by most of the world, but not the United States. U.S. inability to find common ground with the majority of its negotiating partners has meant that international standards, norms and procedures are evolving with the United States on the outside looking in ' with costs to U.S. influence, relations with friends and allies, and capacity to pursue a variety of foreign policy objectives. In 1999, the United States, learning from these experiences, engaged early on in negotiations ' and demonstrated a willingness to compromise ' on the proposed ban on child solders, which enabled the U.S. government to bring important American priorities into the treaty ban, which the U.S. Senate ratified in May 2002.(5)

The Oslo Process is now well underway without U.S. participation. Current U.S. disengagement on what is likely to be a strict ban on cluster munitions, combined with the probable adoption of a treaty sometime this year, means that both the current and future administration may be faced with an unwelcome landmine/ICC treaty scenario, as opposed to one closer to the Protocol on Child Soldiers.

Aim and Scope
The aim of this policy analysis is, first, to create better understanding within affected policy communities in the United States about the effort to ban the use of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians, and, second, to stimulate a broader discussion on the implications of treaty outcomes ' and therefore enhance the likelihood that U.S. practices and policy will evolve in a manner that promotes international cooperation and humanitarian principles. We seek to describe the landscape of this initiative, summarize the key aspects of the proposed treaty ban, illuminate the core policy issues of the debate, and present issues for further discussion regarding U.S. engagement internationally over the next several months and beyond.

1 On 22-23 February 2007 in Oslo, the government of Norway convened a meeting at which 46 governments agreed to pursue a new treaty banning cluster munitions that "cause unacceptable harm to civilians." They envisioned a series of international meetings to produce a treaty ban by the end of 2008.
2 We define "sub-munition" as "any munition that, to perform its task, separates from a parent munition" (International Mine Action Standards (IMAS 04.10, First Edition, 1 October 2001).
3 The policy implications of this proposed ban on cluster munitions are different from those of the successful campaign to adopt the 1997 treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines codified in the Ottawa Treaty. Anti-personnel landmines, for the most part, have much less military utility for national military forces compared to cluster munitions. This has led several states which ratified the Ottawa Treaty, including Canada, to propose exceptions to the draft ban on cluster munitions.
4 The Wellington Declaration, adopted in February 2008, accessed at
5 The U.S. agreement to restrict participation in hostilities among 17 year old members of the U.S. armed forces represented a highly unusual ' if not unique ' example of the United States agreeing to change a domestic practice to enable international consensus and U.S. accession to a human rights treaty.

Von: 18.4.2008,, by Leonard R. Hawley and Eric P. Schwartz

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