We’ve gathered at the home of the Gaelic Games to write a major new piece of international law. Here in the massive Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, nearly 1,000 diplomats and campaigners are thronging the chilly halls to hammer out the final text of a treaty banning cluster munitions. The United Kingdom is one of the lynchpin nations here, but they are clinging to their last cluster munitions and have thoroughly isolated themselves.
But at least the UK showed up. The US (along with China, India, Israel, Pakistan and Russia) has refused the invitation to attend, and is instead issuing alarmist briefings in Washington claiming that a ban on cluster munitions would stop the US military from helping out in humanitarian relief operations. This treaty models the land mine ban – the US has never signed on to that either, yet has managed to continue its involvement in joint humanitarian operations, so there’s no reason to believe this would be any different.
Why are we here? These weapons are indiscriminate killers. I walked through Basra in 2003 after British cluster munitions rained hot death upon the town, killing and maiming civilians. After the war, the carnage continued as children picked up the many unexploded duds; the lucky went to hospital for amputations, the rest are long buried. After Israel saturated Lebanon with 4 million cluster munitions in 2006, the world finally decided these weapons should be outlawed, and after two years of negotiating we are in the endgame. The UK is playing a critical role. As the closest ally of the United States, a member of NATO, and the single largest user of clusters at this conference, what the UK does influences many. Up to now the influence has been perceived as negative, but Gordon Brown’s statement gives us new hope: he opened the door to the possibility of a major change in policy. Instead of making a Faustian pact, he can take back the soul of the negotiations and show Britain is truly great.