The Cable

State agrees with Lugar and Kyl on arms control?

It’s a special day in foreign policy when Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Richard Lugar (R-IN) and the State Department are all on the same page with regards to an international arms control treaty, but that’s what’s happened ahead of a major conference dealing with cluster munitions next week in Geneva. Unfortunately, several other countries and ...

KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images

It’s a special day in foreign policy when Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Richard Lugar (R-IN) and the State Department are all on the same page with regards to an international arms control treaty, but that’s what’s happened ahead of a major conference dealing with cluster munitions next week in Geneva. Unfortunately, several other countries and the NGO community are reading from a different book altogether.

The United States will join an international conference starting on Nov. 14 to review the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) and the lead item on the U.S. agenda is a push for a protocol dealing with the issue of cluster munitions. Cluster munitions (seen here in an Air Force promotional video) disperse hundreds of bomblets over an area, often leaving behind unexploded ordinance that can later be stumbled upon by innocent civilians — with deadly consequences.

Ever since Israel dropped more than a million cluster bombs, mostly made in the United States, during its 2006 war in Lebanon, the international movement to ban the weapons has picked up huge steam. 107 countries have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which would do just that, since it was adopted in Dublin in May 2008 — but not the United States. The State Department’s position, which it will push next week in Geneva, is that a draft proposal for a new protocol for the CCW is better than moving forward with the CCM.

"The United States remains committed to concluding a legally binding protocol within the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) on cluster munitions and believes that significant humanitarian benefits can be achieved by such a protocol," a State Department official told The Cable, explaining that the United States has been engaging other countries on the issue in advance of the Geneva conference.

"We fully support a Sixth Protocol on Cluster Munitions within the CCW based on the chair’s draft text, and believe that a comprehensive international response to the humanitarian concerns associated with cluster munitions must include action by those states that are not in a position to become parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions," the official continued. "Those states produce and stockpile the vast majority of the world’s cluster munitions."

But why can’t the United States, which is the world’s leading producer of cluster munitions, just sign on to the CCM as well? One reason is that the Senate probably would never ratify it.

Kyl and Lugar — two Senate GOP foreign policy heavyweights who rarely see eye to eye — wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Nov. 1 to make that fact clear, and urge the administration to redouble its efforts to push the draft protocol on the CCW forward — and resist the CCM.

"This draft position would advance global efforts to minimize the risks to civilian populations of modern warfare while simultaneously maintaining the ability of the United States and its allies to utilize munitions that will limit American casualties now and in the future," the senators wrote. "However, strong opposition from non-governmental organizations, as well as reservations expressed by a small number of governments could derail the review conference’s efforts to achieve a sixth protocol."

The senators argue that the CCM is crafted to exempt the type of cluster munitions owned by some European countries and therefore unfairly targets U.S. stockpiles. They also point out that the draft protocol to the CCW is largely in agreement with existing U.S. policy, as established by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2008, which stated that cluster munitions "are legitimate weapons with clear military utility in combat…. Blanket elimination of cluster munitions is therefore unacceptable."

"When you have Lugar and Kyl saying that a treaty is good, that’s probably the treaty you want to submit to the Senate," one senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable.

So why are other countries and the NGO community against this idea? For one thing, they argue it gives the United States a seven-year window to keep using and selling cluster munitions before cleaning up its act.

"Gates’ 2008 memo stated that, after 2018, the use, sale, and transfer of cluster munitions with a failure rate higher than 1 percent would be prohibited. That policy moves us in the right direction, but it means the Pentagon still has authority to use cluster bombs with high failure rates for years to come," wrote Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at the time.

She and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have introduced the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act, "which would impose an immediate ban on the use of cluster bombs with failure rates higher than 1 percent and restrict their use in civilian areas," she wrote. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) has introduced companion legislation in the House.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told The Cable that the current CCW draft protocol would legitimize the use of the most dangerous types of cluster munitions for years to come, allow the indefinite use of cluster munitions that can produce significant harm to non-combatants, and undermine the existing standard against the use and transfer of cluster munitions established by the 2008 Cluster Munitions Convention.

"If adopted, the protocol would give cover to other producers of cluster munitions, such as China and Russia, to resist tougher international standards," Kimball said.

"If the U.S. and others are willing to seriously find ways to address the concerns of the many CCM states, then consensus on a modified protocol at the CCW is possible," Kimball said. "But if the United States believes that it can ram the weak draft CCW protocol on cluster munitions through in its current form, I think it is mistaken."

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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