Image: Cluster bomb in Lebanon
Mohammed Zaatari  /  AP
Nick Guest, a technical field manager with the Mines Advisory Group, inspects a cluster bomb unit in the southern village of Ouazaiyeh, Lebanon, in November.
updated 5/30/2008 11:02:43 AM ET 2008-05-30T15:02:43

Diplomats from 111 nations formally adopted a landmark treaty banning cluster bombs on Friday after futile calls for participation by the weapons’ biggest makers and users, particularly the United States.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged every nation in the world to sign the painstakingly negotiated pact “without delay.”

Twelve days of negotiations ended after diplomats from scores of nations delivered speeches embracing the accord. It requires signatories not to use cluster bombs, to destroy existing stockpiles within eight years, and to fund programs that clear old battlefields of dud bombs.

Key states didn't join talks
However, the talks did not involve the biggest makers and users of cluster bombs: the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan. And the pact leaves the door open for new types that could pick targets more precisely and contain self-destruct technology.

Participants plan to sign the treaty in the Norwegian capital Oslo in December. It would go into effect in mid-2009.

Norwegian Deputy Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide, whose nation launched the negotiations in February 2007, said he was confident that the treaty would discourage the United States, Russia, China, Israel and other proponents of cluster bombs to use the weapons again.

“The reality is that states do care about not only the legality of their actions, but also the perceived legitimacy and appropriateness of their actions,” he said.

But Washington this week dismissed the prospect that the treaty would alter U.S. policy. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the United States remained committed to United Nations-sponsored talks that seek voluntary codes of “best practice” among leading makers of cluster bombs. These talks, also involving Russia and China, are not considering a ban.

Several concessions
Nonetheless, the treaty adopted Friday contains several concessions sought by the United States and its NATO allies, many of whom plan to sign the deal.

The pact would allow countries that sign the treaty to keep cooperating militarily with those that do not. Earlier drafts of the treaty sought to prohibit such cooperation, an idea fought by the United States and its NATO allies on the grounds this would make joint peacekeeping work difficult if not impossible.

Cluster bombs have been used in conflicts worldwide, from Vietnam to Iraq, to crush enemy forces by laying a carpet of dozens to hundreds of explosions with a single bomb, shell or rocket.

Their devastating impact on the battlefield often comes at a terrible cost to civilians afterward, including farmers who strike unexploded “bomblets” in their fields or children who mistake the objects for playthings.

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