Geetanjali Mukherjee

Creating Consensus: The Journey Towards Banning Cluster Munitions

This book analyses the events leading up to the cluster munitions ban, the provisions of the treaty, as well as assesses the progress made in the years since towards a world without the presence of cluster munitions.  

On a cold December morning in 2008, representatives of nearly a hundred states as well as dozens of civil society members, gathered in Oslo City Hall to witness the signing of a treaty that marked a moment of triumph and signaled a ray of hope for humanitarian ideals. The treaty would outlaw a weapon that had been in use since the turn of the previous century, one that had destroyed the livelihoods of people for decades after its use, one that disproportionately targeted civilians, especially children. This weapon had contributed to the sluggish development of impoverished countries in South-east Asia, been used in multiple conflicts decades after in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, and was the dumbest of weapons in an era where technology in warfare was evolving rapidly. Despite all this, militarily powerful states were unwilling to give up their dependence on this weapon, and not only did they continue to produce and stockpile them for their own use, the global trade in the weapon was brisk, with leftovers from conflicts four decades earlier turning up in wars on the other side of the world.

For decades humanitarian organizations sought to limit the use of these weapons, but international consensus on the issue was hard to come by. However, where many agreements failed and diplomatic processes stalled, the campaign to ban cluster munitions succeeded. Despite strong opposition from major military powers, 107 countries met in Dublin in May 2008 to negotiate and adopt a treaty prohibiting the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions, which was signed on December 3, 2008 by 94 countries.

As the United Kingdom’s Secretary Of State For Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs, the Hon. David Miliband pointed out, “in less than two years…over one hundred countries have come together to conceive, plan, negotiate, agree, and now sign the most significant disarmament treaty of recent years”. The Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted despite strong objections from many major players in the international system, and blatant opposition from the US diplomatic machine. How was this accomplished, and are there any wider lessons to be learnt from it?

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