Cluster munitions – urgent action needed


In February 2007 Norway initiated a process aimed at establishing, by 2008, an international treaty regulating the production, use, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions.  Agreement was reached fairly early on by participating nations on the banning of those cluster munitions which cause ‘unacceptable harm to civilians’ but debate continues on what this includes.


The UK has participated in and supported the Oslo process from the beginning and in March 2007 the British Defence Secretary announced that our armed forces would no longer use or stockpile ‘dumb’ cluster munitions but would retain ‘smart’ models – those which can supposedly be more accurately targeted and which have an inbuilt self-deactivation mechanism if they do not explode on impact.  Our Government, in company with several others, is arguing that these ‘smart’ weapons should be excluded from the treaty, the official view being that they do not cause an unacceptable level of harm to civilians.  We in KPC would of course argue that any ‘collateral damage’ is unacceptable, but even judged according to cold military statistics accepting of some degree of unintended consequence, these munitions are unreliable and inappropriate.


According to the Israeli manufacturers of the widely used ‘smart’ M85 submunitions – the ‘bomblets’ which make up each cluster bomb – the failure rate is 1%, while Bob Ainsworth, British Armed Forces Minister, claimed in February this year that the failure rate of British held M85s is 2%.  These figures are very different from the findings of Ove Dullum, Chief Scientist, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, in conjunction with British explosive ordnance disposal expert Colin King and the Mine Action Unit of Norwegian People’s Aid.  In their report of December 2007 they observed that the use of M85s by the UK in southern Iraq in 2003 gave the first indication that the failure rate in combat was higher than anticipated, and a detailed analysis of sites in southern Lebanon where M85s were used by Israel in 2006 found failure rates of up to 12.2%.  The report also made the point that the M85 is well designed and well built using good quality materials; submunitions of poor quality are likely to be even less reliable. The degree of humanitarian devastation is of course also increased by the fact that modern warfare is very often conducted in heavily populated areas, and with armoured vehicles now generally able to withstand the impact of cluster munitions, civilians are disproportionately affected both at the time of combat and by the unexploded remnants left on farmland and in residential areas for many years afterwards.


Negotiations on the Oslo process are due to be concluded at a meeting in Dublin starting 19 May this year, so there is an urgency at this time to ensure that the Government changes its stance to one of wholehearted support for a comprehensive ban on all cluster munitions in the forthcoming treaty.  MPs should be urged to do all they can to achieve this and to sign EDM 602.  Vincent Cable MP has already signed and promised active support and KPC/CND has written to the other three local MPs asking them to do the same.  If individual KPC members can also find the time to contact their MPs, the message will be that much stronger. 

                                                                                                                     Hilary Evans