US pressure felt at Dublin cluster munitions conference

US pressure felt at Dublin cluster munitions conference

Bonnie Docherty [Researcher, Human Rights Watch]: "Negotiations for a new convention banning cluster munitions are coming to a close, and perhaps the biggest remaining obstacle to achieving a strong treaty is a country not even present, the United States. The United States has applied pressure to states around the world, particularly to its NATO allies. Campaigners at the negotiating conference in Dublin have taken to referring to the United States as "the elephant not in the room."

Delegates have particularly sensed US influence in lengthy and contentious sessions dealing with "interoperability." The original draft treaty text obliges state parties involved in joint operations not to assist non-states parties with the use, production, trade, or stockpiling of cluster munitions. The weapon causes civilian casualties both during attacks because of its area effect and after because of explosive duds. Based on extensive precedent, this provision would promote the stigmatization of the weapon, a decrease in use by all states, and ultimate universalization of the treaty. US allies, led by the United Kingdom, however, have called for additional language that in essence allows them to assist in violations of the treaty in the course of their military alliances with non-states parties. In the name of protecting their soldiers from criminal liability, they demand an article that allows them intentionally to assist with the use of cluster munitions and to "host" foreign stockpiles of cluster munitions on their own soil, two provisions that undermine the humanitarian spirit of the treaty as well as existing legal precedent. US pressure seems to have a great deal to do with the hard line some states are taking.

Much of its work has been behind the scenes — a US official said the United States has communicated with at least 114 of the negotiating states, but it played its hand publicly last week. Stephen Mull, acting assistant secretary for political military affairs at the US Department of State, told reporters, "…if the convention passes in its current form, any US military ship would be technically not able to get involved in a peacekeeping operation, in providing disaster relief or humanitarian assistance as we're doing right now in the aftermath of the earthquake in China and the typhoon in Burma, and not to mention everything that we did in Southeast Asia after the tsunami in December of 2004." This statement is simply absurd; despite similar provisions in other weapons treaties, no country has ever banned from their ports US units on a humanitarian mission because of what arms might possibly be on board. Furthermore Mull's specific examples are disingenuous because cluster munitions are not appropriate for a humanitarian mission and neither China nor Burma are part of the cluster munitions treaty process.

The time to resolve interoperability and other outstanding issues is short. The final text is due to translators on Wednesday night. To reach the necessary agreement, negotiating states need to ignore pressure from across the ocean and focus on voices from across the room, which seek to promote the humanitarian purpose of the treaty, rather than bow to the demands of the United States."

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