Cluster bombs are not, in general, the kind of thing on anybody's mind today, but details here clearly identify warfare and the industry and economics of warfare as major factors in 'the human condition' today. Consider further too, then, that the French
and others still have 'sappers' digging up live munitions from World War I.
Nonetheless, campaigners think the treaty will reduce and stigmatise the use of cluster munitions. Even states that did not sign the landmine treaty, points out Ms Docherty, have mostly ended up complying with it. Companies that produce cluster munitions risk investors' wrath: in March, at the Irish government's request, the National Pension Reserve Fund sold €23m ($36m) of shares in seven arms companies that produce the weapons.
Such pressure works only in some countries. Turkey and Pakistan signed an agreement this February to produce cluster munitions. Textron, an American arms company, says the three countries that have bought its new “sensor-fused weapons”, and the 17 that may, are unlikely to sign the treaty.
Another snag is defining what a cluster munition is. Most parties agree that the crude weapons designed in the cold war to attack tank columns and troop formations can be banned. But Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland all want exemptions for sophisticated weapons with low failure rates or small numbers of submunitions.
Smart weapons of the kind produced by Textron, for example, are programmed to hit vehicle targets. If they miss, they are inert: unlike old-style weapons, they won't go off when prodded with a stick. The failure rate in tests is less than 1%. Does that make them acceptable from a humanitarian point of view? Not necessarily. The M85 used by Israel in Lebanon supposedly had a failure rate of 1%; reality on the battlefield proved closer to 10%.
Peter Herby, a top official dealing with the issue at the International Committee of the Red Cross, a Swiss-based do-gooding outfit, says exceptions should be particular not specific, depending on reliability, accuracy and the number of sub-munitions in each weapons system.
The third snag is that 76 countries have stockpiles of cluster munitions. HRW reckons the number of bomblets runs into the billions. Signatories will have to destroy these weapons, not store or sell them. That is a hazardous, messy and costly business, requiring scarce skills. Dealing with Britain's 3,650 BL-775 cluster munitions may use up to eight years' worth of the £30m ($65m) annual budget for disarmament. Some states want lengthy transition periods too. Places like Laos, whose territory is still littered with munitions from the hot wars in Indochina, will have difficulty meeting the five-year target for clearing up unexploded ordnance, let alone finding money to pay for it.
A final question is whether the treaty will allow countries that have signed it to continue military co-operation with those that haven't. That is a pressing issue for America's NATO allies. Yet the campaigners are optimistic these loose ends will be tied up, or at least fudged. “Most old cold-war-style cluster munitions will be eliminated, but it's a matter of where you draw the lines. Wherever you draw them, I think 90-95% of existing stocks will fall below it. That's really good,” says Mr Herby.
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