Today in Oslo, Norway, over 100 countries began signing the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The nations signing the cluster bomb treaty argue that the unexploded munitions pose a “deadly hazard to children, farmers and others long after a conflict ends.” In a surprising last-minute change of policy, Afghanistan agreed to join the treaty.
Russia and the U.S. remain two of the key holdouts to the agreement. Today during the White House press briefing, veteran reporter Helen Thomas pressed spokeswoman Dana Perino to explain the Bush administration’s opposition:
THOMAS: Is the President going to sign the anti-cluster bomb treaty? Apparently this is –
PERINO: Right, this is a treaty that was passed out of the U.N. Security Council several months ago. We said then that, no, we would not be signing on to it. And so I think that the signing is actually — we did not participate in the passage of it, and therefore we’re not going to sign it either.
THOMAS: Why not?
PERINO: What I have forgotten is all the reasons why, and so I’ll get it for you. (Laughter.)
When Perino was asked about the administration’s position on the treaty last May, she stressed the importance of cleaning up the munitions but not ending the practice. “We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian impact, not only of just cluster munitions, but really the whole range of munitions that are used at war,” she said. “It’s a moral obligation to clean up, and we do so.”
The State Department has acknowledged that “there are legitimate humanitarian concerns” about the use of cluster bombs, but argues that “it is going to be impossible to ban cluster munitions, as many in the Oslo process would like to do, because these are weapons that have a certain military utility and are of use. The United States relies on them as an important part of our own defense strategy.”