UK backs bid to overturn ban on cluster bombs

Campaigners say US-led proposals to water down global ban give a 'green light' to use the weapons

Britain is backing a US-led plan to torpedo the global ban on cluster bombs, in what MPs and arms campaigners fear is an attempt to legitimise the use of weapons that are widely deemed to be inherently indiscriminate.

In recent years, the UK has played a leading role in trying to rid the world of cluster bombs. It is one of 111 countries that have signed up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, is on target to destroy its own stockpile, and has ordered the US military to remove any submunitions it holds on British soil.

But The Independent has learnt that the UK Government is supporting a Washington-led proposal that would permit the use of cluster bombs as long as they were manufactured after 1980 and had a failure rate of less than one per cent. Arms campaigners say the 1980 cut-off point is arbitrary, and that many modern cluster bombs have far higher failure rates on the field of battle than manufacturers claim.

The international community is gathering in Geneva next week to discuss the proposal, which will be tabled as a new protocol for the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons – a UN treaty from the early 1980s that forbids the use of "excessively injurious" weapons such as mines, booby traps, incendiary devices and blinding lasers.

The world's major cluster bomb manufacturers – which include the US, Israel, Russia, China, South Korea, India and Pakistan – have all refused to sign up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. They plan to push through a less restrictive treaty in Geneva next week.

Arms campaigners say the draft proposal would effectively legalise almost all cluster bombs and be a nail in the coffin of the hard-won cluster bomb ban, which is all but two years old. Austria, Norway and Mexico are leading opposition to the American-led proposal.

Peers and cross-party MPs met Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, on Monday night to express their concerns. The Labour MP Martin Caton is planning to hold an adjournment debate in Parliament tonight on the issue.

"The Government's view appears to be that it is better to get America, China and Russia to sign up to something, rather than nothing," Mr Caton said. "But if this goes ahead, it will give the green light to some of the worst cluster munitions in these countries' arsenals."

Conservative MP Pauline Latham added: "The UK's role in securing an international ban on cluster bombs in 2008 showed the best of what Britain can do in the world. We must not allow this ban to be undermined by pressure from nations that are not ready to abandon illegal and indiscriminate weapons."

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said Britain would need to be satisfied that any new agreement in Geneva “was both complimentary and compatible with the Convention on Cluster Munitions”

“The CCM remains the “gold standard” and the standard that all states should aspire to and the standard that we will continue to promote,” the spokesperson said. “However reliable estimates suggest around 85-90 per cent of the world’s stockpiles of  cluster munitions are held by non-CCM States Parties.  Negotiations in Geneva are aimed at bringing the world’s major suppliers, producers and users of cluster munitions under international regulation.”

In a briefing paper, the Cluster Munition Coalition – which campaigns against the weapons – said that every recorded incident of cluster bomb use since 2008 had involved submunitions that were manufactured after 1980.

Amy Little, campaign manager at the organisation, said: "We fail to see why countries are negotiating a dangerous piece of law when a treaty banning cluster munitions already exists."

Civilian threat: Deployment and failure rate

Lebanon and Libya:

If the Washington-led plans are accepted in Geneva next week, both the Israeli-made M85 cluster bombs and Spanish built MAT-120 mortar rounds would be permissible.

The M85 – used by British forces in Basra – has been singled out as a particularly pernicious cluster round. Billed as one of the most advanced submunitions on the market, its manufacturers claim it has a 1 per cent failure rate in tests.

After Israel dropped more than four million bomblets on southern Lebanon in July 2006 - some of which were M85s - Norwegian experts used the opportunity to test these claims. They discovered that on the field of battle the M85 had a failure rate closer to 10 per cent.

Libya, meanwhile, revealed how readily some nations resort to cluster bombs when troops loyal to Gaddafi used MAT-120 rounds against rebels in Misrata. Scores of civilians were treated for injuries caused by the projectiles, which split into 21 bomblets before hitting the ground.

When this article was first published we wrote that Israel dropped four million primarily M85 bomblets on southern Lebanon in July 2006. Israel did drop four million bomblets but the majority were older submunitions with already high failure rates. A smaller proportion were M85s, which are marketed as one of the most advanced submunitions with a less than one percent failure rate. In Lebanon, however, the failure rate was closer to 10 per cent.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin visits her 1990s work ‘My Bed’ at Tate Britain in London, where it is back on display from today
artsBut how does the iconic work stand up, 16 years on?
Life and Style
life + style
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor