Cracks appear

Tragically we needed to make an early start to Dublin. It wasn’t that we had some massive hangover after the night’s festivities but that we stayed in a good hotel with a nice bad and bathroom but with a disco just the floor below.

It kicked into gear reasonably enough then gradually increased the volume till dooof dooof dooof was seeping through the floor boards at mega decibels. Mette and me could actually barely talk to each other in our room with the noise that blasted up from below. It went on and on and on and on a bit more till finally at 1 am it stopped. We were so tired. The night before was a bad nights sleep and now we were really getting trashed. When the music finally stopped I was so tired I couldn’t sleep till 4.30 am, up at 6.

We got in the Ban Bus and headed to Dublin. It would be at least a 4 hour drive there and we didn’t want to be breaking any speed records to be there by mid day. All of the campaigners were at a hotel having their final preparatory briefing and we wanted to roll into town when they finished and give them a rev up and call to arms.

A Sunday morning drive across Ireland early in the morning is quite nice thing to do. The traffic wasn’t there and the light was nice so we stopped at the odd spot for a little filming. The video is a really important product for so many reasons from supply to the media to You Tube and other communication products. Raechel has done an exceptional job in chronicling the odyssey of the Ban Bus and now will move into a broader film role for the conference. David also has been running about getting great background footage for the Dateline feature.

The miles rolled on by and I wrote as Mette drove. As we got closer to Dublin it was with mixed feelings that we felt that this chapter was closing as the next one was to open. Road trips should end at a great destination. This road trip will end at a treaty.

Ban Bus arrival in Dublin

We circuited Dublin in a manic one way system and were called by Rae that the meeting was breaking up. As we turned the corner in Abbey Street off O’Connell we were faced with a mass of people flooded across the road. The Ban Bus had arrived. All of the campaigners from all around the world were there to greet it and it was an amazing feeling to finally park and step out to the cheering. Many faces from many corners of the globe had come and this was to be a call to arms for the weeks ahead. We climbed to the roof of the Ban Bus and gave the last talk to a crowd about unity and strength of action to make the treaty a reality. Finally we broke up and all headed in their different directions till the next days battle begins.

We headed for home and weren’t we tired. A beer or two and a night off were so needed. Mette went off to get the last of our gear out of our first apartment with Rae and Kevin and me had a talk and meal. We met another friend from the steering committee and our worst fears were starting to come true. The ugly shadow of censorship was starting to descend over the conference. The governments want it behind closed doors so they can literally get away with murder. The problem of access is again being put on the NGO’s. I concede that the facility is not huge but only a hand full of places have been allowed to the CMC. The CMC has basically instigated and driven this process and now most participants can not attend. It is the same situation for governments with the limited space but any member of a government delegation can enter and talk with other delegates. This access is denied to us so we must trawl the corridors looking for people to lobby.

The opening ceremony was short and sweet and the work of the conference got underway quickly. The NGO’s lined the corridors with a handful inside. The corridors are actually where most of the real work takes place but instead of being able to ask people out for a talk we have to patrol the halls and grab them as they come out for coffee. This makes getting hold of the right people in a timely way very difficult.

The Australians came out and we got into a conversation quickly. The temperature rose between us as we ended up in a passionate and heated discussion about their new sensor fused weapon system and the issue of interoperability. The military representative just reeled out the same old tired bombast as I’ve heard time and time again which basically culminated in a good dose of regional paranoia and desire to support America in any conflict they might enter. This doesn’t make an argument about continued use but it does show that they are not here with any intent to create a strong treaty. All that really came up was them wanting one exception after the next.

One of the young aggressive pups from the Australian delegation tried a little loud talk bullying to no avail as he tried to weigh in on the side of the military. The military spat statistics and model numbers to try and pontificate himself ahead of the others and it all became a little clutching at straws. It really showed their weakness as they were completely disinterested in engaging on any of the problematic issues in a constructive way.

The issue of Interoperability is a storm in a tea cup as there are many ways to deal with this issue in the treaty or in national legislation. The treaty text that is being circulated at the moment basically adds wording that would allow open assistance with another country that wants to use cluster bombs. The lawyers say it’s to protect their troops in joint operations from legal liability if their partners use cluster bombs. If this were so then the text should have an intent and wording like ‘knowingly and unintentional’ to demonstrate that they would not wilfully assist in the use of cluster bombs. This kind of wording is not what is being discussed though. What is being discussed is text that allows active support of a cluster bomb using country to continue their use. It allows inducement and assistance. That is not the kind of wording that protects soldiers from being caught up in someone else’s cluster bomb strike. It even covers ‘training’ so how can that be an accidental act?

To be really accurate lets look at the offending text.

“a State Party may,
a. Host states not party to the convention which engage in activities described in Article1.
b. Participate in planning or execution of operations, exercises or other military and related logistic activities by that State Party, its armed forces or individual nationals, conducted in combination with armed forces of States not parties to this Convention which engage in activities described in Article 1.”

It this text actually manages to go into the treaty then it will have a massive loop hole that will bring the shadow of more cluster bomb strikes to future wars.

One issue I wonder if supporting countries have though about is the concept of ‘collateral damage’. That basically means you have killed civilians. This is not a hypothetical but has so many instances in fact that it’s impossible to ignore.

In 1999 during the war in Kosovo NATO cluster bombed a so called target in a town called Nis in Serbia. They missed their target and dropped their cluster bombs into the suburbs. Many civilian people were killed and injured by this action. NATO said it was an accident.

All of that being as it is, how would a country who assisted in this operation who is a signatory to the treaty then see its liability? If Australia assisted in such a strike and the subsequent ‘accident’ then would they be liable? Morally I say 100% yes. What do lawyers with no morals say? They would probably say that it covers them legally and allows protection of their forces from liability. I would say it will equate to more dead civilians in future conflicts. The one thing I do know is that it will not be them who will be there to clear up the mess.

The other complicated part of the treaty is in defining what a cluster bomb is. This is becoming a very technical argument and has gone in every direction so far except a positive one. Is a cluster bomb defined by numbers of munitions or explosive size or bomblet size or what. To date this debate has gone nowhere. This seems to be of key concern for the Australians and they have bought their new weapon system. I can’t even begin to guess where this discussion will end up so the rest of the negotiations will be interesting.

The new Australian system is a cluster based anti vehicle or artillery weapon. It’s a top end expensive first world bank account system so of course they want them and are happy for the third world to be again disadvantaged as they can’t compete financially. It’s back to the case of ban all weapons except what they want to keep. Many of the European countries are doing this as well.

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