Germany unexpectedly announced on Thursday, May 29, that it would complete the destruction of its arsenal of cluster bombs in line with a new international treaty proposing a complete ban of the dangerous weapons.
Germany will destroy 97 percent of its conventional cluster bomb arsenal by 2015
The announcement came as a surprise to many. The German Defense Minister Franz Josef had made it very clear before the treaty was agreed upon on Wednesday that Germany would not consider decommissioning its remaining stockpiles. As efforts intensified to pressure those nations which had not signed the treaty, Germany made its announcement in the hope that its actions would spur others to act similarly.
Under the agreement, Germany would actually be required to destroy 97 percent of its cluster bomb supplies by the target date of 2015. The remaining three percent come under the title "intelligent cluster bombs," a derivative supposedly designed to compensate for the wind distribution carrying bomblets away from the intended target, which is not covered by the new treaty.
Campaigners have agitated for a ban because of the risk of civilians being killed or maimed by the indiscriminate, wide-area effect of the conventional cluster bombs. They also pose a lasting threat as many bomblets fail to explode on impact but go off later. Critics of the weapons also complain that even these so-called "intelligent" bombs cannot be relied upon to remain in the target area.
Possible coalition split narrowly avoided?
Did Merkel get between Jung and Steinmeier on the issue?
Germany's U-turn on the issue has some observers believing that the defense ministry, headed by the conservative Jung, had been forced to adapt its stance by the foreign ministry under its Social Democrat head Frank-Walter Steinmeier. It was widely believed that the differing of opinion over the approach to the accord was adding pressure onto an already fraught coalition relationship.
However, in Berlin, Steinmeier and Jung said in a joint statement that the agreement was an "important milestone."
"We see it as a confirmation of our sustained engagement against this category of weapons which in the past has caused unspeakable suffering among civilian populations," they said, adding that Berlin would ratify the accord as soon as possible after the agreement is signed in Oslo on Dec. 2-3.
"In advance, we have decided today that Germany will already, with immediate effect, ban all types of cluster bombs and destroy its remaining stockpiles as soon as possible," the statement said. "With this step we are making a strong statement: We want other states that are still holding back to follow our example and join the cluster bomb ban without delay."
A foreign ministry spokesman added: "The draft treaty now has to be signed as soon as possible. At the same time, we will press with all our might for the convention to apply worldwide."
Delegates from 111 nations agreed on the treaty after ten days of painstaking negotiations in the Irish capital Dublin.
Conditions allow non-signatories to continue manufacture
NATO used cluster bombs in Serbia during the war of 1999
However, key cluster bomb manufacturers such as the United States, Russia, China, India, Israel and Pakistan did not attend the talks and are thus not covered by the agreement.
Under pressure from NATO, the text of the convention contains a concession to the US and other countries which want to continue to use and produce such munitions, by allowing military cooperation between signatories and non-signatories.
The special rule will allow nations which sign the anti-cluster- bomb convention to participate in common military missions with the US and other countries which continue to use the bombs.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urged all states to adhere to the treaty "in the near future" and called on them to stop using cluster munitions regardless of whether they participated in the Dublin talks.
"The ICRC has regularly witnessed the terrible impact of cluster munitions on civilians," its president Jakob Kellenberger said in a statement. "The convention adopted in Dublin means that these weapons are not only morally unacceptable but also now illegal under international humanitarian law."
Norway, which will host the signing ceremony, also called for "the greatest number of countries possible" to join the Dublin accord, which Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere described as "historic" and "a victory for humanitarian law."
Critics see treaty euphoria as inappropriate
Protestors say the treaty has been annulled by the US
Anti-cluster bomb campaigners were in less effusive mood, however, claiming that the United States had bullied its allies into weakening the treaty.
Jody Williams, who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize together with her International Campaign to Ban Landmines, said genuine peacekeeping operations backed by the United Nations would not be affected by a global ban on cluster bombs.
The United States argued on Wednesday that the treaty could jeopardize US participation in joint peacekeeping and disaster relief operations by "criminalizing" military operations between countries that signed the ban and those that did not.
"I hate to see countries like Canada for example, the UK, France, Germany, Australia, who were leaders in the movement to ban landmines, doing the dirty work of the U.S," Williams said. "They are trying to create a loophole big enough to fly a US attack helicopter loaded with cluster munitions through it," she told Reuters.
"The issue I have with the United States is that it is working overtime to try to influence the negotiations without having the wherewithal and courage to come here itself and do its own dirty work," she said.