May 29, 2008
It’s a big defeat for the Bush administration. This conference is going to produce a strong treaty banning cluster munitions, and there’s nothing the White House can do to stop it.
Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch

US efforts to undermine a new treaty banning cluster munitions met with significant defeat today at the final negotiations in Dublin, Human Rights Watch said.

Preliminary agreement on a draft treaty text on the afternoon of May 28 indicated that virtually all of the 110 countries gathered in Dublin favor a more comprehensive ban of cluster munitions than the US itself can tolerate.

News on the morning of May 28 that the British government was willing to give up cluster munitions that it had used in recent years in Iraq left Washington further isolated in the endgame in Dublin.

American officials are not attending the treaty talks but have lobbied hard in world capitals to undermine the treaty. Diplomats in Dublin say US Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice and even President George W. Bush have been telephoning their counterparts around the world to promote US positions.

“In the end, the Americans had very little support in Dublin,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s a big defeat for the Bush administration. This conference is going to produce a strong treaty banning cluster munitions, and there’s nothing the White House can do to stop it.”

Expert analysts of the treaty say it will require the United States to remove its stockpiles of cluster munitions at several military bases around the world, a measure that Washington had firmly opposed.

The US won some concessions on the issue of “interoperability.” The draft treaty text contains a loophole in Article 21, allowing treaty signatories to “engage in military cooperation and operations with States not parties to this Convention that might engage in activities prohibited to a State party.” The negotiating states have insisted that the provision is needed for situations where the US might use cluster munitions against the wishes of its allies. But the wording is vague enough so as to allow states to assist the United States in operations where it uses cluster munitions.

The US government has argued that prohibiting such assistance would have hindered humanitarian operations around the world. But identical provisions in the landmines treaty have had no such effect in the 11 years since the treaty went into effect.

Human Rights Watch, as well as the Cluster Munition Coalition representing hundreds of nongovernmental organizations from around the world, and a significant proportion of the 110 countries represented at the conference, opposes such a loophole. But in the end, the conference president insisted that delegations vote on the draft text without amendments. The final text will be formally voted on this Friday, May 30.

The treaty text released today represents a significant victory on key provisions such as the definition of cluster munitions, assistance for victims, and the treaty’s quick entry into force.

“The treaty is going to stigmatize cluster munitions in the same way that the landmines treaty did,” said Goose. “This is a weapon headed for obsolescence, fast.”

The treaty text will likely be finalized tonight, as it must be translated in time for closing ceremonies on May 30 at 13:00 local time. Please visit www.hrw.org for up-to-the-minute updates.