While 111 countries this week agreed to ban cluster bombs, the main countries that use and produce the munitions didn't even take part in the discussions surrounding the deal. The United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel all failed to participate in the 10 days of talks that ended in a treaty to be officially unveiled on Friday. The agreement bans the majority of current designs of cluster bombs and requires signatory states to destroy their stockpiles within eight years.
The campaign to ban them had been impassioned, with opponents pointing to the fact the vast majority of victims of cluster bombs are civilians. The munitions take the form of bomblets that are scattered from planes or artillery shells and that often lie undetonated for years, posing a huge danger to farmers clearing land or children who mistake them for playthings.
During the talks in Dublin the original draft treaty was watered down in a number of ways. The most important change was that signatories would not be prevented from cooperating militarily with non-signatories, something that threatened to make the NATO alliance unworkable. However, the German effort to introduce a transition period failed.
Nevertheless the German government welcomed the pact as an "important milestone" in furthering international humanitarian law. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said in a joint statement on Thursday that Germany had played a leading role in securing the treaty and that Berlin would "with immediate effect unilaterally renounce all types of cluster munitions and destroy as soon as possible all remaining stocks."
However, German Green Party leader Claudia Roth hit out at the German stance during the Dublin talks, describing it as hypocritical. "On the outside they presented themselves as humanitarian campaigners, but in the background the interests of the German arms industry played a strong role." Roth was critical of an exemption in the treaty for so-called intelligent bombs which hit their targets accurately. "That is a free pass for munitions that we dont know and that are often produced by German firms," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Thursday.
German commentators on Friday give a cautious welcome to the cluster bombs ban, hoping that the moral force of the agreement will stigmatize the use of the weapon even for those who did not sign up to the treaty.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The ban is stricter than had been expected 10 days ago and there will be no transition period. The German government has welcomed the agreement as a 'milestone in furthering international humanitarian law.' That seems a bit feigned considering that Berlin together with its NATO allies pushed through two exceptions: technologically advanced munitions, that are pinpoint accurate will be allowed, and so will cooperation with forces who use cluster bombs -- a concession to the US."
"These compromises were worth it because it was the only way to ensure that a critical mass of states put their weight behind the ban. The more states willing to proscribe cluster bombs because they are cruel and violate humanitarian law, the greater the political price for using them. That is important for the effectiveness of the convention because the most important producers and users of cluster bombs do not support the deal and did not even come to Dublin."
"The wars of the 21st century are about image, credibility and political legitimacy. The US has emphasized the 'war for hearts and minds,' whether in Iraq or in Afghanistan. Civilian victims just play into the enemies' hands. That may sound cynical but it is a lesson of these new wars."
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"The 1997 Ottawa Treaty that banned the use of anti-personnel mines shows that even arms control agreements that take place without the participation of the worst offenders can bring about concrete improvements. However, this time the loopholes in the treaty are much bigger and far more dangerous. That is attributable to the dubious role played by the German government. Thanks to its role as a proxy, the United States was able to ensure that it secured exemptions for military operations between signatory and non-signatory states."
"Luckily the German government was not able to prevent a ban or get a transition period for the M-85, which accounts for 95 percent of the Bundeswehr's cluster bombs arsenal."
"Let's hope that the German government now sticks to its promise to destroy the munitions rather than spending the next eight months until the treaty comes into effect flogging them off on the global arms market for a profit."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Unfortunately some states succeeded in pushing through their demands for exemptions to the ban. This in part was done in coordination with countries, particularly the US, that did not want any cluster bomb treaty at all and that would have preferred to have prevented any agreement."
"All of the loopholes will unfortunately lead to a diluting of the international pressure on those who refuse to sign the treaty. ... Nevertheless, the treaty is an important success. Like the 1997 landmine ban, it shows that non-governmental organizations have the strength to push through international arms treaties."
-- Siobhán Dowling, 12:10 p.m. CET