At the current 12-day conference to negotiate an international treaty banning cluster munitions, diplomats and observers alike are wondering what has happened to Canada's independence.
The same country that launched the "Ottawa process" resulting in the historic 1997 Mine Ban Treaty now appears to be doing dirty work for the United States to weaken the cluster munitions treaty.
As with land mines, the United States is no friend of the effort to ban cluster munitions launched in February, 2007, in Oslo. But it was openly and actively involved in the Ottawa process until walking out of treaty negotiations on the last day, unable to force acceptance of a "negotiating package" that would have gutted that treaty. This time around, Washington is opting for intense, relentless pressure behind the scenes.
One U.S. official bragged that more than 110 countries had been "spoken to" about this treaty. It has flat-out told allies that it will not alter its military doctrine, structure or deployments to accommodate terms of the treaty. Further, the United States has threatened that it will not remove its cluster munitions stockpiled in countries that do join the treaty - even though it removed land mines stockpiled in countries that are part of the Mine Ban Treaty.
It is not surprising that Washington continues to throw its considerable weight around. What is surprising, however, is that some countries are willing to carry water for the United States, despite its vow never to sign the treaty. Even more surprising is that one of those countries is Canada.
As Tim Shipman reported this week in the Sydney Morning Herald, "U.S. officials are frantically warning their allies not to sign the treaty as it now stands, because it would undermine NATO and criminalize soldiers who fight alongside them. … An official from the U.S. State Department warned that under the treaty, British front line troops who call in artillery support or air strikes [in Afghanistan or Iraq]from an American war plane, all of which carry cluster munitions, could be hauled into court." Mr. Shipman could just as easily have used the case of Canadian soldiers fighting alongside Americans in Afghanistan.
In military jargon, this U.S. exaggeration could be called "firing for effect" - see if you can frighten others into doing what you want. It is also misrepresenting the facts.
The proposed cluster ban treaty would prohibit any signatory country from assisting a non-signatory country in its use of banned cluster munitions. But such a treaty will not mean the end of joint military operations nor make Canadian soldiers automatically liable in the event the United States were to deploy such weapons. Joint military operations with Canada continue right now despite the fact that the U.S. is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty. No Canadian soldier has been hauled into court. At least seven other international treaties - many of which Washington is party to - have similar obligations on prohibiting assistance in use of a banned weapon by a country bound by the treaty. But in response to the intense pressure of the outgoing Bush administration, Canada has developed a "bottom line" on joint military operations to join the future treaty.
It says there must be language to protect Canadian military from liabilities should they be involved in joint military operations with allies outside the treaty who do use cluster munitions - in other words, the United States. Proposed Canadian language would not only seriously weaken the provision prohibiting governments from "assisting, inducing, or encouraging" states outside the treaty with any prohibited act that, but it would also create a loophole big enough for a U.S. attack helicopter loaded with cluster bombs to fly through. It would permit solders of countries that are part of the treaty to participate in the planning and execution of joint operations with the United States where cluster munitions are used.
How can the Canadian government say with a straight face it is banning cluster munitions while at the same time vigorously promoting language allowing Canadian soldiers to plan and execute operations where, in effect, they would be using U.S. cluster munitions? How can it say it is merely trying to protect Canadian troops and is not really trying to appease the United States?
A cluster ban treaty will not undermine NATO. Belgium unilaterally banned cluster munitions in 2006, and a Belgian official said it has in no way affected Belgian participation in NATO operations.
In fact, a recently completed internal NATO study found there would not be an impact on joint military operations if NATO members sign a cluster munitions treaty with the prohibition on assistance intact.
Canadians are appropriately proud of their country's leadership both in bringing about the Mine Ban Treaty and in its continued leadership to ensure that treaty is fully implemented. It is time to call upon the government to take the lead in Dublin to give the world a stronger - not weaker - treaty banning cluster munitions.
Jody Williams was the founding co-ordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) for which she and the ICBL received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. She is also the founding chair of the Nobel Women's Initiative.
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