CLUSTER MUNITIONS: Is Germany Really a Leader in Banning Killer Bombs? (Germany)

Germany's foreign minister has celebrated his country's commitment to ridding the world of cluster bombs. But some question Berlin's role, saying the government insisted on exempting "intelligent" cluster munitions from the ban.


Less than a week after over a hundred countries came together in Oslo to sign a far-reaching ban on the use of cluster bombs, Germany's role in the agreement is being closely examined. And it may not be quite as positive as many would like to believe.

AFP- A cluster bomb in the yard of a house in Lebanon after the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has made clear that he sees Germany as a leader on the cluster-bomb issue. Last week he published a joint statement with his British counterpart, David Miliband, in which they said that "Germany and the UK are sending a visible signal to other countries" by signing the convention, and that they "encourage" others to do the same.

But according to Andreas Weigel, a Social Democratic member of parliament, Germany has little cause to celebrate its record on the issue so far. "There is no reason for backslapping," says Weigel. He and fellow parliamentarian Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, of the conservative Christian Social Union -- the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats -- are rushing forward a bill for ratification of the treaty.

The reason for Weigel and Guttenberg's impatience is that the government has long delayed passing a cluster bomb deal that might negatively
impact German munitions manufacturers such as the Düsseldorf firm Rheinmetall or Diehl, which is based in Nuremberg.

In the past, the two munitions companies benefitted from large orders for the bombs from the German army. The stockpiles were never used. But the companies have developed a new generation of so-called "intelligent" cluster munitions, and the German government was able to prevent the new "smart" bombs from falling under the cluster munitions ban. Berlin argued for an exception of such munitions that can be programmed to hit pre-determined "point targets."

As a result of the exemption, Diehl has made it clear it no longer wants to be referred to as a manufacturer of cluster munitions. Indeed, the company has filed suit against an online magazine based in Regensberg for just such a reference.

Exactly how precise and these "smart" bombs really are and how much danger they pose for civilians is disputed not only by anti-mine organizations like Actiongroup Landmine, but by politicians as well. Guttenberg and Weigel have criticized the testing of smart bombs for not being transparent enough.

A statement released by the German parliament on Monday said the body was committed to having Germany play a "leading" and "exemplary role" in cluster bomb disarmament, and that it wants Germany to be among the first 30 countries to ratify the treaty. Parliamentary ratification should proceed sometime in the first half of 2009. cpg -- with wire reports

Von: 08.12.2008,

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