Thursday, 8 December 2011

Good News on Cluster Munitions – US proposed protocol defeated

Last week campaign groups, humanitarian agencies and independently-minded governments have achieved another step forward towards the elimination of cluster munitions. Two weeks ago Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church wrote to the Foreign Secretary on behalf of the Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Church to oppose the proposal by the United States for a protocol to be agreed at the Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. This Conference has been meeting over the past two weeks. The proposed protocol would regulate the use of some types of cluster munitions and ban others.

However, in 2007 our churches had worked hard with other agencies to bring about the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) which bans all forms of cluster munitions. This treaty was ratified in 2008 and recognises that even cluster bombs with “fail-safe” mechanisms scatter unexploded bomblets around a battlefield and have been responsible for deaths of civilians, children and adults long after the fighting has ended. Over the past month humanitarian agencies have argued that the US proposal will serve to undermine the CCM. We have insisted that the CCM must be recognised as the sole universal standard on cluster munitions and all states must be encouraged to sign up.

At the Review Conference this week the stakes were high. There was united front from the US, Russia, China, India, Israel, the Republic of Korea and others to persuade States to agree to the protocol that would impose certain restrictions on those States that refused to sign the CCM. They were supported by some NATO members who have signed the CCM.

The UK government had indicated that they were giving consideration to the US proposal although only if it provided clear humanitarian benefits. With the help of an effective Parliamentary campaign the UK delegation chose not to offer support for the US proposal. A group of 50 States actively voted against the protocol and consequently the use of cluster munitions by the US military or others will become increasingly difficult to defend.

The remarkable strength and organisation of campaigners, particularly in the UK, has not gone unnoticed in these international negotiations. There are lessons to be learnt from the Oslo process that brought the CCM into being. It built a critical mass of international opinion on cluster munitions bringing together like-minded governments in a process running in parallel to the Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. It leaves us wondering whether alliances of humanitarian agencies, faith groups and more enlightened governments can be similarly mobilised for other objectives; maybe to introduce restrictions on targeted killings, automated and remote-controlled war fighting or even encourage progress on nuclear weapons and the road to global zero.

As churches we remain committed to working with our government on defence and security issues as we anticipate a time when nations ‘shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks;nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’ (Isaiah 2)