Canada's dilemma. Our relationship with the U.S. and NATO makes it tricky to sign a treaty banning cluster bombs (Canada)
Diplomats and aid groups from 120 countries meet in Dublin on Monday to hammer out an international treaty to ban cluster munitions. But Canada, which does not produce or use the weapons and is in the process of destroying its existing stockpile, faces a dilemma in signing the treaty because of its military relationship with the United States and NATO in Afghanistan.
The U.S., which has more than one billion cluster bomblets stockpiled, is boycotting the Dublin meeting, preferring instead to operate through the Geneva-based Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which is widely viewed in the anti-cluster movement as ineffective.
Canada was the world leader in the 1998 international treaty to ban landmines, a role that Norway has taken on for the cluster treaty. With or without Canada, the U.S. and two other large cluster stockpilers -- China and Russia -- a treaty of some kind will be signed in Oslo in December.
Canada has sent a delegation of Foreign Affairs and Department of National Defence arms specialists and experts in international law.
The Canadians will be focused on three issues:
1. Inter-operability, which for treaty purposes, means joint military operations. Under the current draft of the treaty, signatory nations would be banned from assisting other nations that use cluster bombs. Some nations want that condition removed altogether, but others say the treaty would be too weak without it. "If you're banning a weapon, you shouldn't be encouraging anyone to use it," says Paul Hannon, head of Mines Action Canada, one of the first non-governmental organizations in the world to call for a cluster ban.
If the treaty becomes international law and signatories willingly assist in the use of cluster munitions, political and military leaders of those signatory countries could be prosecuted. The lawyers on Canada's delegation will be focused on protecting Canadian decision-makers from that possibility.
2. The second major hurdle is defining what a cluster bomb is: The deadliest of the weapons scatter bomblets over huge swaths of land, often great distances away from intended military targets. The toy-like bomblets have a high failure rate on impact and lie dormant, causing a huge humanitarian problem. Thousands of people, especially children, have been killed or maimed by these remnants of bombing raids in countries such as Laos, Serbia, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Lebanon.
While never foolproof, weapons technology has improved the accuracy of cluster bombing and is producing clusters than can either self-destruct or self-neutralize if they don't explode on impact. An agreement exempting these newer clusters from the treaty would be a breakthrough that could solve Canada's inter-operability issue.
European aid groups, including Handicap International, have accused the United States of attempting to undermine the treaty process by threatening vulnerable countries reliant on U.S. aid. The U.S. used a similar tactic during the latter stages of the landmine treaty.
While the United States is unlikely to sign the cluster bomb treaty -- it never signed the Canada-brokered international landmines treaty -- U.S. officials say they are focused on manufacturing "safe" clusters with a less than one-per-cent failure rate. In its own defence, the U.S. also says it spends more than any other nation on clearing clusters and other remnants of war, including landmines.
3. The third major issue to be resolved in Dublin is the duration of a transition period for the destruction of existing stockpiles. Countries with larger stockpiles are pushing for a longer transition period to replace banned weaponry.
The traditionally apolitical International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has also thrown its weight behind a cluster ban.
"Cluster munitions are weapons that never stop killing," said ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger, who will speak at the opening of the Dublin conference, which runs until the end of May.
"States should now conclude a treaty that will prohibit inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions, provide for their clearance and ensure assistance to their victims," Mr. Kellenberger said in a statement.
Paul Hannon, the director of Mines Action Canada, says the Dublin negotiations are going to be tough.
"It will be tricky,' he said, "but it's doable. We're getting close. It would be very strange for Canada -- a country that has never produced or used cluster munitions and which is destroying its stockpile -- not to help prevent a huge humanitarian problem by signing this treaty."
Von: 17.5.2008, www.canada.com, by Chris Cobb