Two days ago, the Convention on Cluster Munitions (the Oslo Agreement) achieved its 30th ratification — and therefore, by its own terms, enough support to becoming a binding international instrument on all ratifying nations. (Art. 17.) It will do so on Aug. 1, 2010.
Although 104 nations have signed the Oslo Agreement, it took Tuesday’s ratifications by Burkina Faso and Moldova to trigger the entry into force provisions. This brings the total number of ratifying nations to 30, and
include[s] states that led the “Oslo Process” effort to create the Convention (Norway, Austria, Holy See, Ireland, Mexico, and New Zealand), states where cluster munitions have been used (Albania, Croatia, Lao PDR, Sierra Leone, and Zambia), cluster munition stockpilers (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Moldova, Montenegro, and Slovenia), as well as Spain, the first signatory country to complete destruction of its stockpile. Other ratifying states are: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malawi, Malta, Nicaragua, Niger, San Marino, and Uruguay.
Enough of those states have been involved in cluster bomb manufacture or stockpiling for the treaty to also embody some state practice in support of the norm. In fact, half of the fourteen countries that have actually used cluster bombs since the formation of the United Nations have now signed or ratified the treaty.
Of course, this still leaves the major manufactures of cluster bombs — the U.S., Russia, China, North Korea, Pakistan, India and Israel — who are not on board with the treaty.
Although the United States has not been a signatory, it has taken a few steps towards limiting the use of its own cluster munition resources. In early 2009, the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act was introduced, but has since stalled in Congress. That legislation would have banned “most” uses of cluster munitions by the U.S. In March 2009, a separate bill was passed that banned all but a “tiny fraction” of cluster bomb exports.
The U.S. continues to maintain that cluster bombs are a legitimate military weapons, and that their absence would create a “capability gap” for military forces. Because the Oslo Agreement does not allow for any reservations — a practice the U.S. frequently resorts to when it does wish to enter a treaty of this nature — and because the U.S. has made clear it does not intend to enter into a complete abandonment of its cluster munitions programs, it is extremely unlikely that the U.S. will sign, let alone ratify, the treaty.
However, even if it does not participate in any actions on the international plane to reduce the harm to civilians caused by cluster bombs, the U.S. has repeatedly shown that, on the domestic level, it intends to regulate its own use of the weapons. Although the CMCP bill has stalled, in 2008, even before the drafting of the Oslo Agreement, Defense Secretary Gates issued a memo with regulations aimed at minimizing any potential harm to civilians caused by U.S. use of cluster munitions. [PDF]