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International treaty banning cluster bombs signed in Oslo.

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RN PM International treaty banning cluster bombs signed in Oslo


International treaty banning cluster bombs signed in Oslo

PM - Thursday, 4 December , 2008 18:34:00

Reporter: Anna Hipsley

MARK COLVIN: It's being hailed as the most significant arms control treaty in a decade.

Representatives of more than 100 countries, including Australia, have gathered in the Norwegian capital Oslo to sign an international agreement banning cluster bombs.

But there are fears that the treaty won't stop the production of a new generation of cluster munitions, more deadly than the last.

Anna Hipsley reports.

ANNA HIPSLEY: Cluster bombs were developed during the Cold War for maximum carnage against advancing armies.

The bombs, which explode in mid-air and spread smaller bombs over a wide area, leave a deadly legacy.

More than three decades after the US Air Force dropped 260-million cluster bombs on Laos people are still being killed and maimed.

Shaun Sutton is a photographer with the Mine's Advisory Group, which cleans up after conflicts.

SHAUN SUTTON: It is a deadly harvest. Some of them are used as lanterns, so obviously the children see these and think of them as harmless objects and that makes things much more dangerous when they find them in their playgrounds.

ANNA HIPSLEY: According to Handicap International, about 100,000 people have been maimed or killed by cluster bombs since 1965.

Ninety-eight per cent of them are civilians.

Anti-cluster bomb campaigners say the hardware is outmoded as well as immoral and like mustard gas, land mines and "dum-dum" bullets, should be resigned to history.

Overnight, that hope became closer to reality.

More than 90 nations, including Australia and 18 of 26 members of NATO signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, barring the use, production and sale of cluster bombs.

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told the conference in Oslo it's been a long time coming.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Too many people lost their lives and their limbs. Too many futures were shattered. The tragedy of their needless suffering is matched only by our joy today in being able to prevent more human misery in the future.

ANNA HIPSLEY: But the treaty won't have the signatures of some of the world's most powerful nations, including the United States, Russia, China, India, Israel, Pakistan.

The US says signing would compromise the safety of its troops.

But proponents of the treaty argue cluster bombs are incompatible with modern warfare.

Mark Hiznay is a senior researcher in the arms division of Human Rights Watch.

MARK HIZNAY: They're still holding to these kind of 1980s concepts of what warfare is going to be that there will be this mass force on force where conveniently all the tanks will be out in the open and you'll be able to target and hit them with these light aerial weapons. But the reality is warfare is now amongst the people and insurgencies where you're just not going to have a force that's going to give you that kind of targe to be able to use this kind of weapon.

ANNA HIPSLEY: How significant is it that the US has decided not to sign this treaty?

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MARK HIZNAY: Not at all. The US is headed down this road. The use of cluster bombs in the US is now subject to presidential authorisation.

What speaks more loudly than the talking points from Washington today to me is that the US is not using cluster munitions in Iraq right now and it's not using them in Afghanistan.

ANNA HIPSLEY: The Oslo Convention is expected to put more pressure on non-signatories to abandon cluster bombs.

James Turton is co-ordinator of the Cluster Munitions Coalition of Australia.

JAMES TURTON: I think the biggest thing to keep in mind with this treaty is it's going to stigmatise the use of cluster munitions. If any state dares to use these things again, there's going to be so much international condemnation.

ANNA HIPSLEY: Activists also hope the election of Barack Obama will bring a change in America's position.

But there's another big problem.

The treaty doesn't ban the development of new cluster munitions.

Noel Sharkey is a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at Sheffield University.

NOEL SHARKEY: About two months ago there was a call for proposal from DARPA, that's the American Defence Agency, for a new cluster weapon. This one, will find the target, it will pursue them. If they were overtaking a school bus for instance, it wouldn't be able to discriminate between the school bus and the vehicle it was pursuing.

ANNA HIPSLEY: And that creates a different argument about the ethics of modern warfare.

MARK COLVIN: Anna Hipsley.

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