Nearly 100 countries recently joined together to sign a treaty that would ban so-called cluster bomb weapons. However, the United States and Russia have refused to sign the treaty that would eliminate the weapons from being used in combat warfare.
Afghanistan was also reluctant to sign the treaty, but after testimony from victims who were maimed by the bombs, they reluctantly agreed. At a two day signing conference in Oslo, Norway the Afghani government agreed to sign after testimony by a 17 year old boy who lost his legs in a cluster bomb attack. The diplomats were obviously moved as the young man testified before the council.
The reversal of Afghanistan’s decision to ban the cluster bombs came as a surprise to supporters of the ban, and was declared an historic event. The cluster bombs have been widely criticized as inhumane because of the maiming and killing of civilians in war zones throughout the world.
The United States was particularly criticized for not signing the treaty after it had applied so much pressure to other countries to sign, including Afghanistan. Thomas Nash of The Cluster Bomb Coalition said “If Afghanistan can withstand the pressure, so can others”.
The United States and Russia have both defended their refusal to sign the treaty by saying that cluster bombs are a legitimate military weapon and are effective in repelling advancing troop columns. One activist group, Handicap International, says that 98 percent of cluster bomb victims are civilians, and 27 percent of those are children.
The Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, said that 92 of the 125 countries attending the conference have signed the treaty. Organizers had hoped that more than 100 countries would have signed the treaty by the end of the conference.
Norway, who began the movement to ban the cluster bomb weapons, was the first to sign the treaty, followed closely by Lebanon and Laos. Great Britain, formerly a major stock-piler of cluster munitions, also signed the treaty. Authorities say that this shows that a major NATO country can defend itself against threats without the cluster weapons.
In a statement issued by the U.S. State Department, a spokesman said that “such a general ban on cluster munitions would endanger the lives of our military men and women.” They also claimed that banning the weapons would put US coalition partners at risk as well.
According to VOA News, Steve Goose, the arms director of Human Rights Watch, said that “The cluster bomb treaty will save countless lives by stigmatizing a weapon that kills civilians even after the fighting ends.”