The Norwegian government is hosting a meeting Thursday on cluster munitions. Oslo considers UN talks on the issue last year a failure and hopes to launch efforts for an international ban backed by Germany.
Cluster bombs were also dropped by NATO during the Kosovo War in 1999
Representatives from over 40 countries and international organizations are gathering in Oslo on Thursday and Friday to discuss ways to outlaw cluster bombs. Norway and other nations in favor of a ban are being hampered by nations that oppose one.
The Scandinavian country hopes the two-day meeting, which will be attended by senior ministry officials from around the world, will be the start of a process that will ultimately lead to the adoption of an international ban -- even without the support of some key countries, such as opponents Britain and the United States.
"It is better that the like-minded (pro-ban) nations work in the same direction," said Raymond Johansen, Norway's state secretary of foreign affairs. He said that an international accord would put pressure on anti-ban nations to eventually comply.
The pro-ban countries expected to be represented include Norway, Sweden, Germany, Mozambique and Angola. On the other side, Britain, Canada, France, China, India and Russia belong to those opposed. The United States, which is also opposed, will not be in attendance.
Several UN organizations will also attend, as well as the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), the umbrella organization grouping non-governmental organizations campaigning for a ban.
"It's a double whammy."
A cluster bomb consists of a container holding up to hundreds of smaller so-called bomblets. It opens in mid-air and disperses these grenades over a large area. Cluster munitions are stockpiled by most countries' armies and have often been used in the past 40 years, most recently during the war in Lebanon.
Demining unexploded cluster bombs in Lebanon is dangerous work
Opponents of cluster munitions consider these weapons an unacceptable danger to civilians.
"It's a double whammy," said CMC's co-chairman Steve Goose. "At the time of the attack, the bomblets spread over a large area and they cannot be guided. A large number of them do not explode upon impact, and so they can kill years later." He said that cluster bombs disproportionately target civilians.
"Cluster munitions caused more civilian casualties during the (last) Iraq war and in Kosovo than any other type of weapon," Goose said.
Proponents of a ban argue that a prohibition is achievable. They point to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty that banned the production, stockpiling and use of anti-personnel landmines -- also the result of a Norwegian initiative.
"The landmine treaty created a powerful standard," Goose said. "We think the same can happen with cluster munitions."
Can a ban influence the right countries?
Some experts remain cautious about a ban, though.
Unexploded cluster munitions threaten civilians even after a conflict is over
"The worry is that, with cluster munitions, it will be a treaty binding those who are already in agreement, but won't touch those countries that are affected by them, or manufacture them," said Nicholas Sims, an expert on arms limitation at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
That fear is compounded by the fact that the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- are against an international ban on cluster munitions.
Another source of concern touches the scope of the ban. Non-governmental organizations are calling for a comprehensive ban on the production, stockpiling and use of all types of cluster munitions. However, even a pro-ban nation like Norway has suggested that a ban could exclude certain types of cluster munitions, such as those that self-destruct on impact.
The Norwegian government decided to host the conference, as it considered the latest UN talks on the issue, held in Geneva in November, a failure.