The issue of cluster munitions was first raised in the early 1970’s, when the devastating effects of the use of cluster munitions in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos lead a group of countries, including Norway, to propose a prohibition on these weapons. However, neither these efforts, nor subsequent attempts to raise the issue within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, have been successful in establishing a legal framework preventing the use of such munitions.
For this reason, Norway invited all interested states as well as international and non-governmental organisations to a conference in Oslo in February last year.
Today, we see that this initiative has developed into what seems to be an unstoppable international process with more than one hundred states actively participating. This includes both former user and producer states, stockpilers, as well as affected states and not least; a great number of states who wish to avoid becoming affected states in the future. We commend the Government of Ireland for its tireless efforts in convening us all here in beautiful city of Dublin.
The humanitarian problem caused by the use of cluster munitions has been well documented. In each and every conflict where such weapons have been used, they have caused large numbers of civilian casualties and injuries, both during their use and for many years after conflict has ended. The use of cluster munitions leaves behind large numbers of unexploded ordnance which are highly unstable, and which continue to claim the life and limbs of civilians for years and decades after the conflict has ended. Beyond the obvious humanitarian consequences, these duds also constitute an economical and developmental problem, as they hinder effective use of land for post-conflict reconstruction.
Although sceptics have claimed that we cannot prohibit cluster munitions because of their perceived military utility, we see a growing recognition of how problematic use of traditional cluster munitions is in both political and military terms.
As Deputy Minister of Defence, I would like to underline that there is a fundamental recognition in military quarters that the use of military force is never a goal in itself. When force has to be used, it is but a means to achieve a particular political purpose. The use of inaccurate and unreliable weapons systems that causes long-term humanitarian and developmental problems in the affected area may actually end up undermining the political purpose the operations were supposed to support. Anyone familiar with modern concepts of effects-based operations will recognize that legitimacy, be it in the area of operations, at home, or in the international community, quickly has material effect on the ability to conduct military operations in a 21st Century setting.
Experience from past use in conflicts shows that most types of cluster munitions are not as effective in engaging the military targets as previously anticipated. This, of course, also represents a threat to one’s own personnel. Modern combat operations tend to be highly dynamic. An area contaminated by a high number of duds also hampers mobility and represents a risk when advancing through contaminated areas. We therefore already now see that the actual use of cluster munitions is actually decreasing as a result of not only humanitarian, but also broader political and military considerations.
The pursuit of international regulations of weaponry is not a novel phenomenon. Generations before us have sought to prohibit the most unacceptable weapon types identified in their time, be it the expanding bullet of the 19th Century, poisenous gases of the early 20th Century, or more recently, the ban on anti-personell land mines. This development is a reflection of the broader endeavour to enhance crucial principles of military conduct, like the principle of distinction, proportionality and avoiding unneccessary suffering. We see the Oslo Process as a part of this historic endeavour.
After all, the underlying trend in weapons developments moves in the direction of more precise and reliable weapons systems that are able to achieve the desired operational goal with the least possible unintended side effects.
We have come very far in the 15 months that have passed since we met in Oslo last year. That does not, however, mean that we have reached the goal, and there is still work to be done in order to reach agreement on all issues.
The most central of the remaining issues is of course the definition of cluster munitions to be prohibited by the Convention. We will work actively to reach agreement on a definition that prohibits all types of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
Norway believes that this is likely to cover most of the existing stokpiles of cluster munitions. Striving for a ban on all munition types that consist of more than one submunition is, in our view, missing the point. What really matters is that we have an effective and waterproof convention that does not allow any of the types that in effect cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
Secondly, we need clear obligations to ensure the rapid destruction of existing stockpiles. The large numbers of stockpiled cluster munitions today are of great concern with regard to the risk of proliferation. We do recognise that the destruction of cluster munitions may represent more complicated technical challenges compared to other types of explosive weapons, and we also recognise the need to take into consideration both relevant safety regulations and environmental standards. However, ambitious, but realistic provisions for safe storage and swift stockpile destruction will be our principal tool to prevent further proliferation and use of cluster munitions in the future. This should primarily be a domestic responsibility, but international cooperation will be needed also in the area of stockpile destruction.
Thirdly, we need to address the issue of interoperability. We continue to believe that the current draft Convention does not prohibit military cooperation with States not party to the Convention. We will, however, continue to work actively, with other states, to make sure that this issue is adequately addressed in the Convention, without in any undermining the overarching purpose of the Treaty.
Fourthly, it is necessary to establish a framework for international cooperation and assistance to implement the treaty provisions on land clearance, stockpile destruction and assistance to the victims and their communities. We need a tool to aleviate the humanitarian and developmental problems caused by cluster munitions to make the new convention a relevant and effective humanitarian instrument
The Norwegian delegation to the Dublin Conference has a clear objective: Together with the representatives of other states, international and non-governmental organisations we shall put all our efforts into producing a strong and comprehensive treaty that establishes a complete ban on cluster munitions causing unacceptable harm to civilians, provides adequate support to victims and effectively prevents proliferation of such munitions.
Although there are undoubtedly many challenges ahead of us in the two upcoming weeks, I am firmly convinced that we will reach our common goal. We now have a historic opportunity to establish an international, legally binding instrument that will both to prevent new victims and help those persons and communities already affected.
This cause is more than ripe. Action is called for now. We do have a considerable humanitarian problem at hand to address, and equally important, we need to, and have the opportunity to, prevent a broader humanitarian disaster.