We’re either opposed to cluster bombs or we’re not
In 2008, Australia signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international legal instrument that bans the use, production and stockpiling of cluster bombs: indiscriminate weapons that cause suffering and casualties to civilian populations.
This week, the Senate passed national legislation to ratify the Convention that stands in direct contrast to the spirit of the treaty, which was established to “unequivocally, and for all time, end the suffering caused by cluster munitions”.
The Cluster Munitions Prohibition Bill allows cluster munitions to be stockpiled on Australian soil and Australian troops to assist in all aspects of the weapon’s future use.
The Bill’s “interoperability” provisions allow Australia to continue full cooperation with its military allies who have not joined the Convention. Australian defence forces will be free to assist in the use of cluster bombs in every way. The only thing that the legislation prevents them from doing, when collaborating in bombing missions, is actually pushing the button.
Weak jurisdiction provisions in the Bill will allow Australian allies to stockpile their cluster munitions on Australian soil, and to use Australian resources to transfer them. The Bill reads:
“Section 72.38 [which lists the criminal offences under the Bill] does not apply to the stockpiling, retention or transfer of a cluster munition that is done by a member of the armed forces of a foreign country that is not a party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions…”
And herein lies the crux of it: our very favourite ally is not among the 111 states that have signed the Convention and has clearly indicated that it does not intend to become so in the near future. Does allowing our dear friend, the United States, to fully utilize – and perhaps even rely on - Australian resources in their use of cluster munitions really amount to an unequivocal ban of the weapon on our part?
Australia spends a significant amount of international aid on Mine Action—which includes the clearance of unexploded cluster bombs and victim assistance for those who have had accidents with them.
The government is currently halfway through the implementation of a four-year $100 million international Mine Action strategy to “reduce the threat and socioeconomic impact” of landmines, cluster munitions, and other explosive remnants of war.
This money, like Australia’s signature to the Convention, constitutes a pledge to the rest of the world of our commitment to eradicating these munitions and their impediment to the socioeconomic development of developing countries.
Given these apparent inconsistencies, we have to question: What is our real position on cluster munitions?
Are we unequivocally opposed to them and the harm that they cause, as our aid and our signature to the Convention suggest? Or do we believe that our obligation to support the military activities of our allies takes precedence over our commitment to human rights?
Australia is fond of the moral high ground in the international arena. We like to make sweeping egalitarian gestures and cast our largesse upon our less well-provisioned neighbours. But how deep does this go?
We will stand as a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, in the attractive glow of humanitarianism. But our ratification of it ensures that we need not compromise our support of the USA. Incredibly, the legislation with which we will ratify the Convention actually makes provision to facilitate the use of these very cluster munitions in as yet unforeseen conflicts.
Moral double dipping, to say the least. This legislation abolishes all hope that Australia will honour its commitment to banning cluster bombs.
The Cluster Munitions Prohibition Bill is an indictment of the Australian government’s hypocrisy and moral ambiguity. It is an exercise in legislative fancy footwork to curry favour with the USA while maintaining our putative international image as one of the good guys. And tragically, human rights are once again the victim of moral expediency.
Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…