Talks Focus on Coping with Bombs When the Shooting Stops

Article excerpt

SOME OF THE bombs, artillery shells, and other munitions that U.S.-led coalition forces and Iraqi forces are firing at each other will not explode as intended and will pose a threat to soldiers and civilians after the fighting stops. How to deal with such "explosive remnants of war" (ERW) is an issue diplomats gathered in Geneva March 10-14 to negotiate.

States-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which comprises four separate protocols restricting or banning the use of weapons deemed indiscriminate or "excessively injurious," agreed in December 2002 to negotiate an ERW "instrument," although that term was not precisely defined. The United States insisted on an "instrument," rather than a traditional protocol, signaling that the final product did not have to be legally binding. But other countries are insisting otherwise.

Edward Cummings, head of the U.S. delegation, underscored March 10 that the U.S. position has not changed. In reviewing a draft framework paper on the potential instrument circulated by the Netherlands, Cummings said, "We have a comprehensive objection to all language that implies a legal character to the instrument. Phrases like 'high contracting parties' and the verb 'shall' are objectionable to us as they connote a legally binding instrument."

The U.S. preference is to have a nonbinding political document spelling out voluntary best practices that signatories intend to follow. The United States, however, might be amenable to an agreement that is a mixture of both legal and political commitments. The United Kingdom proposed such a hybrid at the March meeting.

A few countries, such as Norway and Austria, favor negotiation of a legally binding cluster munitions ban, which the United States strongly opposes. The U.S. military used cluster munitions, which are weapons that disperse smaller lethal munitions over a broad area, in Afghanistan, and they are part of the U.S. arsenal available for use in Iraq.

The United States contends that negotiating a legally binding document would be much more difficult, could not be completed quickly, and might lead some countries to refuse to sign the final agreement. …