UN officials estimate that southern Lebanon is saturated with 1 million unexploded bomblets, far outnumbering the 650,000 people living in that impoverished region. This devastation against humanity, which led to many Lebanese wounded, homeless or dead, galvanized much public and diplomatic opinion.
Michael Slackman of the International Herald Tribune, when writing on the Israeli usage of cluster bombs in Lebanon, said, "They are stuck in the branches of olive trees and the broad leaves of banana trees. They are on rooftops, mixed in with rubble, littered across fields, farms, driveways, roads and outside schools" (Oct. 6, 2006).
At this moment, more than 100 world leaders have gathered in Dublin for a diplomatic conference to negotiate the details of a ban on cluster bombs. For over four decades, these explosives have been used by industrialized nations in "wars" against poorer nations, from Laos to Lebanon, causing much devastation among their civilian populations. Representatives from countries around the world are deliberating what a cluster bomb treaty should cover -- they are wondering whether cluster bombs should be banned fully or not.
Not surprisingly, influential powers like Britain, France and Germany do not want to see a "complete ban" on cluster bombs. The British government is calling for a ban but is asking for some exemptions that would allow it to retain some cluster munitions in its arsenal.
If a treaty is formed calling for a comprehensive ban on cluster bombs, countries with clashing interests like Britain have the option of walking away from signing the negotiation. Although every country has an equal vote, Ireland, the chairing country, is faced with the challenge of balancing the interests of the majority smaller nations versus the major users like Britain, whose signature will lend a sense of legitimacy to the treaty. Furthermore, there is nothing to stop the more powerful countries in the future, for example, from undertaking coalition operations in partnership with the United States, which is not signing the cluster ban treaty.
The treaty is scheduled to be signed in November. It will be the most significant step since the mine ban treaty signed 10 years ago. Despite the fact that the United States, Russia and China have not signed the mine ban treaty and will not sign the cluster ban either, they will find their future actions affected by the outcome of this treaty.
Organizations like Human Rights Watch, Handicap International and others have combined their energies to give voice to the millions of people around the world calling for a complete ban on cluster bombs. These humanitarian organizations, coupled with the power of the public, will make even the most powerful country think twice before using a menacing weapon like cluster bombs against the innocent population of a country. This is the lesson learned from the process leading to the ban on landmines that came into effect in 1997.
We need to realize that what we want is a complete ban on cluster bombs -- no exceptions. We have to make a resolution for a more peaceful today and a more secure tomorrow for our children. Public outcry, like the one that followed the bombing of Lebanon, can combine to create unstoppable momentum. We don't want the influential powers to undermine moves toward a total ban on the use of cluster bombs. With our voices combined, and our hands joined, together we can make the painful memories of cluster bombs a distant fact from our history.