Cluster munitions are bombs with an outer casing that breaks open in mid-air, scattering smaller “bomblets” over a wide area, with a radius of up to a kilometre. Many of these bomblets fail to explode on impact, leaving a hazard to civilian populations, and especially to children, for decades after the cessation of conflict.
Laos is a case in point: 35 years after the end of the war, unexploded sub-munitions, estimated by the International Red Cross to number between nine and 27 million, continue to kill and maim Laotian civilians, about one third of them children.
Australia has signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, and legislation ratifying our adherence to the Convention will be considered by the Senate in the forthcoming session of Federal Parliament. Our United States ally is conspicuous by not being numbered amongst the more than 100 countries that have signed the Convention, which creates an issue for the Australian Government in striking a balance in the legislation between our commitment to eliminating these inhumane and indiscriminate weapons, and the ways in which we cooperate with a major ally that continues to use them.
In an op-ed piece, Lame stance on cluster bombs, in the 16 March 2011 edition of The Australian, former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, whose commitment to the US alliance can hardly be questioned, presents a number of reasons for concluding that we lean much too far in the direction of accommodating the US on this matter. Rather than seeking to convince the US that it is in its own best interest to rid itself of these weapons, “the government is highlighting its willingness to do whatever it takes to be a compliant partner of the US, even when that means undermining the spirit and intention of a convention that we helped bring into being”.
Rather than bending over backwards to accommodate the US, if Australia maintained the humanitarian commitment it displayed in signing this convention and actively worked to convince all our allies to cease using cluster munitions, we could surely make a significant contribution towards a better world.
Read Malcolm Fraser’s opinion piece in full here.