Category Archives: Ban bus Ireland

Australian Legislation on cluster bombs

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Australia is about to pass legislation in order to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and there are several concerns that the proposed text does not reflect the spirit of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

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Our overriding concern is that the proposed legislation demonstrates a weak interpretation of the Convention. As such it is not consistent with the spirit of the Convention which strives “to unequivocally, and for all time, end the suffering caused by cluster munitions.”
Interoperability and article 21

* Interoperability because the proposed legislation may allow Australian forces to assist with activities that are prohibited by the Convention. The spirit of article 21 in the Convention on Cluster Muntions was to protect troops of signatory countries from prosecution for actions by other nations not party to the conventions. It was never intended to allow either limited or unlimited collaboration with non-signatory parties.


* Jurisdiction because the proposed legislation allows foreign forces to use Australian territory to stockpile and transit cluster bombs. This is clearly facilitating the use of cluster bombs.


* Retention because the proposed legislation allows Australia to retain cluster bombs without specifying any reporting obligations and setting a minimum number.

No mention of positive obligations

* Positive Obligations because the proposed legislation does not mention any of the positive obligations to assist in clearance, victim assistance and to universalise the treaty.

No prohibition on investment in cluster bombs

* The proposed legislation does not prohibit investments in cluster bombs.

How close is too close?

In the past the Australian government has had an NGO representative on the delegation. In the last round of talks in Wellington the NGO’s decided that there was a distinct conflict of interest between the two. NGO’s have since pulled off the delegation. In the weeks leading up to the conference the government went shopping around looking for a new NGO delegate. The big problem here is if you are on the delegation then you are gagged from commenting on the proceedings. This greatly compromises any effectiveness you can achieve at a conference like this. All of the NGO’s approached turned down the government’s invitation until they came to World Vision and Australian Red Cross. They both took a seat with the government and have since been locked into their world. Now they have the problem of the official gag order. They can not comment on any of the delegations discussions and basically can not be that important bridge between NGO’s and governments. This also compromises them as they can only really engage with the government and not the NGO’s as they can discuss our NGO position to government but not discuss their position to us. This is certainly a one way street.

Doors open

As the first week of the conference unfolded it emerged that the Irish government has it at heart to have as open a process as possible. The initial exclusion of many from the proceedings has relaxed a bit and NGO’s can now enter most of the meetings as long as there is a seat for them. Governments with spare seats in their delegations have also helped by offering these seats up to the NGO’s. This has created a far more transparent and inclusive process for all and has assisted greatly in the NGO efforts to lobby governments. People can listen and see who makes what statement and more importantly get a feeling of the spirit that the statement was made in and then get meetings with the delegates outside of the conference hall.

As the week unfolded and countries true positions were revealed, the work on the text continued and developed. Some of the treaty articles have been developed extremely well while others are far more problematic. Victim assistance for instance has gone very well and the Australian Ambassador Caroline Millar has done great work in negotiating strong and practical provisions into the text.

Some of the more difficult issues regard transfer across sovereign territory and again definitions and interoperability. The developing text is getting better in some areas but still weak in others.

The interoperability text is ducking and weaving in many ways but still with loopholes well imbedded in the text. The most offending language that definitely opened specific doors in the treaty for coalition use has been slightly softened but in actual content you could still drop another load of cluster bombs through it.

On balance, the various provisions are tightening up which is isolating the problem points. This is positive. As this happens, this also flags the most problematic countries even farther. They are now feeling very exposed and whatever coalitions they had are now collapsing. The ‘Like Minded Group’ is turning in to the ‘Let me out of here group’.

Lobbying and this kind of results driven process has systematically dismantled opposition to this treaty and it feels like it’s within grasp.

The real problem countries to emerge are now Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom along with a few other first world belligerent countries.

Schmooz baby

One of the wonders of this diplomatic world is the never ending array of cocktail parties. For many nights in this two week process, one organisation or another have organised receptions in the evenings. These events I hate with a passion as it seems so many of these people are so removed from the reality of what they are actually here to negotiate about. It’s all very well to negotiate but it’s making a change that counts and a change based on field realities. The cocktail circuit, as repulsive as it is, is a great opportunity to lobby farther and the real advantage is many of them get quite well lubricated so their gums flap considerably more. Nothing like a pissed diplomat for a little “loose lips sinking ships.”

We all worked the crowd and even pretended that we liked a few of them and gathered a mass of intelligence. We even succeeded in bending a few wavering government ears and came away with a few more allies.

Hot and Cold

This is supposed to be a transparent process for both the NGO community and the media. There are of course times when privacy is essential but in general we should be seeing what is going on. From the difficult start regarding access for NGO’s, we have developed into a system of accessibility that is working reasonably well. We get as many seats as we can find on top of the few allocated to us by the conference organisers. The same more fluid situation can not be said for how the press is being treated.

They are having a terrible time in being allowed to film one thing one day then that same shot is banned the next. Anyone with a video camera is the most obvious target for a security service that would be more at home bouncing in a pub than the delicacies of a diplomatic conference. When one cameraman was filming general crowd shots a woman launched herself out of the masses and lunged in front of his camera saying in an aggressive manner that he couldn’t film this. Two hours earlier what he was doing was ok. This has been the tone from the security services to all of the media and now, in the second week of the negotiation, there is a tense stand off between them. Someone tries to film something, a security person hovers nearby then they turn this way or that and all hell breaks lose again. What they seem to be too stupid to realise is that this just paints Ireland as the host country as a bunch of hicks. The only damage will be done to them at an international level when many of the media organisations run the footage of them trying to mug the cameramen. This approach has not been extended to those who take a sound recorder and hold it to one of the TVs in the hall that has the conference running on it. They are ignored.

So, it seems that if you record the sound off the TV then that is ok. If you take still photos then that is ok. If you take notes of it all then that is ok but if you point a video camera in any direction then you become public enemy number one.

Now a host of Irish media jokes are circulating the security not knowing what sound recorders are and that they would never know what a note book was for as they couldn’t read one any way. It’s tit for tat. The security pushes the media and then they just push back. The only thing is that media has the ears and eyes of the world and the security doesn’t so who do you think will win this pissing match.

Day eight

The meeting has almost run its course and the final 72 hours is ahead. Day 7 ended with a long night and the president of the conference working incredibly hard to have a final text on the table by the morning. The president of the conference is called Daithi O’Ceallaigh and he has done a stunning job to try and balance all the relevant arguments and agendas to come up with a treaty that will be strong but also acceptable. No point in a weak treaty but also no point in a treaty so strong that no one will sign onto. It’s quite a tight rope act for him.

The way this all works is that there is the mass meeting that is the Committee of the Whole or as Eva calls it, the ‘COW’. This then breaks up into various working groups that take one article each and try and create text that will be workable and acceptable. The chairs of each of these working groups then digests what is said and slowly writes what will be the wording of the final treaty article. It’s reviewed then when most seem happy, or as happy as diplomats get, it’s submitted back to the president for him to turn into the president’s text. This is the treaty.

On Tuesday night, the end of day 7, the president took all work on all articles and said he would present a final text of the proposed treaty the next day. This is the moment when you hold your breath to see if the end result is good or bad.

Each of the various chairs of the article discussion meetings listens to all views and writes a text that they feel covers the meetings views and the balance of how much support there is for one feeling or another. It’s a very difficult job. What is critical is in these meetings the balance is struck by who speaks and about what. If a few very vocal countries continue to oppose something or want something inserted then this will happen if no one speaks up in opposition. It’s not just that people need to show their opposition but that many must show it as the amount who support or oppose an idea has direct bearing on the outcome. From an NGO point of view we had to have friendly governments be prepared to weigh in on our behalf and to keep the treaty text strong.

When the president took all of this away on Tuesday night it was obvious that the morning we would be very happy or in total outrage. The text he presents in the morning can be sent back to the drawing board to be re worked but there is also a lot of pressure to push through what has happened over the negotiating period.
The night came and went and Wednesday morning was a buzz in anticipation. The rumour mill was running at full speed and the appointed hour for the text was 10 am.

The Like Minded

The Like Minded group has been a loose coalition of wealthy states who want either a weak treaty or no treaty at all. They have largely been led by the delegation from Great Britain. The British ambassador takes bombast and superciliousness to new heights and he has the tone of that snobbish upper crust that gets under my skin at first syllable. It seemed like a return to the days of Empire and colony as Australia and Canada drew close to him. I though we were a reasonably self assured nation but obviously not as we were now drawn close to Downing Street for directions.

The tone from the British was one of arrogant self assuredness that knew they could bully and badger others to fall into line behind their views. They were the most outspoken in the meetings on interoperability, definitions and transition periods. They seemed prepared to wage these fight as long as a few others would fall in line behind them to lend credibility to their arguments.

Australia, Holland, Germany, Canada, Denmark and a few others were all here to erode what was to be a great and strong treaty. Their solidarity seemed a real problem for the possibility of a strong and effective treaty emerging. On the morning of May 22 The Times in London ran a front page story that the UK was reconsidering their position on cluster bombs. Gordon Brown had ordered the military to go back and have a rethink about their continued use. This sent shock waves through the conference and the so called ‘Like Minded’ group began to collapse. With the number one ally changing position then the whole argument began to fall apart.

Panicked conversations could be overheard in the hall ways as they all rang home for further instructions. The crack between them grew and grew till it became obvious that the UK back flip would have major implications.

It seems the change of position came due to direct pressure on Gordon Brown from the voting British public. The Labour Party in Britain is at an all time low in the opinion polls and Brown is not the preferred Prime Minister. Pygmies from the Amazon basin would poll higher than him at present and the general public is more than 95% in favour of a ban on cluster bombs. At this point if he went against the will of the people then he would bang a few more nails in his political coffin. It was a staggering example of the will of the people overthrowing the agenda of a government. Who said you have no power against the big end of town?

This put the ‘Like Minded’ group into a tail spin as they called home for more directions. The wall was beginning to tumble on down. It was like watching one of those game shows where they give the contestant three choices, call a friend, ask the audience or go 50/50.

The Treaty

Amb. McKay, John and.

The pressure was on as the first two days of week two came and went and the president was about to present the text so far. I feel he sensed the turmoil and made use of it by presenting a strong draft treaty. He can’t just make it up as it’s all a consultative process but what did hit the tables at 10 am on Wednesday was 95% fantastic.

Most of the treaty was never going to be controversial but the few sections that could be bad could undermine the whole thing. They were Transition periods, Definitions and Interoperability.

There were no transition periods. You sign on 100% or you don’t, up to you. You can not decide a weapon system is bad then argue that you will need it for a few more years just in case you want to use it. This was excellent news.

The actually definition of a cluster bomb was very good and would eliminate all types that have ever been used to date. There were a few things we would have rather not been in the definitions but in all it was a broad, field based, catch all definition.

The section for those injured by cluster bombs was exceptional and rose above any existing treaty to date. This was probably the single most important treaty for victims of war ever negotiated.

This left interoperability and the really bad wording was gone but the replacement text was not 100% at all. This was our last true concern. It took away the wording that directly allowed inducement and assistance but it negated the primacy of article 1 which set out the aims. This was not good.

There was a mad dash for copies of the treaty and NGO’s and governments alike scrambled to their respective corners to paw over it with a fine tooth comb. A treaty is a large document of legal speak and every word needs to be weighed to make sure as to which has primacy over what etc. Normally this would take a few days at least but we only had a few hours. The president was going to reconvene in the afternoon.

As we huddled in our various corners dissecting the text we were amazed at how strong the draft of this treaty was. I can only describe it as brave and ambitious. One article after the next was read, reread, then approved. If this actually gets up then this treaty will make a real difference for the conduct of future wars. The definition of a cluster bomb was ok and there were to be no transition periods. Victim assistance was excellent and stockpile destruction periods realistic. Article after article was all good till we were almost at the end and there was article 21. This article is a qualifier for the issue of interoperability.

Its amazing how the subtlest word can change a document and here was the catch. Paragraph one and two were ok but paragraph three was an escape clause for coalition operations.

Article 21.
Relations with States not party to this Convention
1. Each State Party shall encourage States not party to this Convention to ratify, accept, approve or accede to this Convention, with the goal of attracting the adherence of all States to this Convention.
2. Each State Party shall notify the governments of all States not party to this Convention, referred to in paragraph 3 of this Article, of its obligations under this
Convention, shall promote the norms it establishes and shall make its best efforts to discourage States not party to this Convention from using cluster munitions.
3. Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 1 of this Convention and in accordance with international law, States Parties, their military personnel or nationals, may engage in military cooperation and operations with States not party to this Convention that might engage in activities prohibited to a State Party.
4. Nothing in paragraph 3 of this Article shall authorise a State Party: (a) To develop, produce or otherwise acquire cluster munitions; (b) To itself stockpile or transfer cluster munition

Notwithstanding. What a word. It is a loophole word and allows all of the requirements of Article 1 to be broken in regards to coalition operations. There was the escape clause for the difficult countries but to be realistic, the UK and others like them would never sign this without such a clause.

Now all were faced with the dilemma of do you agree to a text with such a clause or trash the draft text and head back to the drawing board. At this point the decision is largely in the hands of the governments. Can they wear it or not. Many do look to the NGO’s for approval but the final call is theirs.

The few hours ticked by and we talked to friendly governments about the options of accepting this wording or trashing it. Reluctantly it was decided not to throw the baby out with the bath water and accept the treaty. A strong statement must be made in opposition to Article 21 but acceptance of the over all treaty was important.

1300 hrs

Wednesday at one and the conference reconvened. The floor was open for comments and we braced for the barrage of for or against. One by one the countries who wanted to make their statements did and one by one they agreed with the draft text. It was going to pass though unopposed. We even heard that the Japanese would sign as would most of the others. The participating countries finished their statements and the meeting closed till Friday for the closing ceremony.

On Friday the room was packed and the press were allowed to film inside. Comment after comment was made and all talked of the idea of compromise. No one got 100% of what they wanted but all were prepared to accept the strength of the whole for a treaty that needed to exist.

As the governments finished their statements the floor was passed to Steve Goose on behalf of us. As usual, Steve made an accurate and astute statement that boiled the treaty down to its reality. It was good, it was acceptable and it was going to work, it was a compromise. When he came to comment on article 21 he called it ‘a stain on an otherwise perfect treaty’.

The conference adjourned and the world took a small step into a slightly safer future. History was being made.

The end came short and fast and all were struck dumb by the lack of opposition. As we filed into the halls there was a sense of anti climax for many as this was the end of the road for many who had fought for this moment for so long. When you are keyed up to fight fight fight and then your opponents says ‘ok, I agree’, it’s a shock and one that takes time to sink in. There was much back slapping and hugs and we handed out a commemorative poster to all delegates.

I sat for awhile to the side and watched diplomats exit and it was interesting to sum up the ones I had got to know over the past two weeks. Most were career diplomats who were grey people with grey personalities who take the dollars and do the bidding of their governments. Then there were the others. Those who made a real difference in this negotiation process and had eloquent interventions that brought the whole process back to the human catastrophe we were there to address. The Lebanese diplomat walked out and he was one of those as was Don McKay, the New Zealand ambassador followed then by my personal hero in this process, the Norwegian ambassador Stefan Kongstad. If it wasn’t for him pushing this forward over many years then we never would have arrived here today.

There was now just clearing up. Break down the exhibitions, get rid of the Ban Bus back to the hire company and have a bloody good blow out of a party.

We all converged on a private bar and instantly cut loose. These people are some of the most inspiring you could ever hope to meet and together we made history. Along with all the campaigners from the far flung corners of the globe were a few government people who were the good guys in our eyes. All were welcome and all were making a dint in the Guinness barrel. Out from the bar comes Earl the Canadian. We grin at each other both knowing each had fought a hard fight. “To you my friend” he says. “And you mate” as I raise my glass to him. The work and political manoeuvring was now behind us. Tonight was to be a night of dancing, partying and a huge hangover for the morning. All were to be justly fulfilled and that was the treaty in the bag.

Rae’s rant on sensor fused cluster bombs

Alias senselessly confused weapons

You can’t have evidence under your nose like we found for the BLU108 and simply say “Yes, but that’s US-made – but this is the SMArt155 made in Germany, or the BONUS and that’s fancy Swedish and French technology. They all share technology and potential problems. The question is simple – do we test them on civilians in a conflict next year, or in 5 or 10 years, or do we put human life and justice first. Give them up for the greater good. The only argument against that is prof it – there is nothing about this technology that the military cannot do without.

Then go home, have a beer, and listen to some good music – be a human!!

Sensor-fuzed submunitions & clean battlefields

Examining the facts

At the risk of starting this presentation on a controversial point let me begin with a question: Does a definable genre of weapons called sensor-fuzed cluster munitions exist? Some of you will be sure of the answer – but you may between you actually have opposite answers – ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively – and I think that is an indication that there is need for what we could, in the spirit of the conference, call a wider information footprint. Having started with that somewhat controversial question I realise that some of you, perhaps the majority, may actual be wondering ‘if something called sensor-fuzed cluster munitions doesn’t exist what have all those powerpoint presentations been about?” and that is a fair question; let me explain.

Even I, with my jaundiced view of the weapons procurement process, would think it fairly unlikely that my government would expend millions of pounds on a weapon which doesn’t exist, but I do not agree that the term ‘sensor-fuzed weapons’or SFW refers to a genre of weapons which could be said to share sufficient design or impact properties that, for the purpose of the Dublin Treaty, could be considered as a definable and separate group of cluster munitions. I will look briefly at the three in service and production cluster munitions which employ similar sensor technology but then focus on the US-manufactured BLU-108 SFW, designated as the CBU-97/CBU-105 as a container/submunition combination. We are lucky in this regard that the manufacturers of this weapon have been very transparent in their willingness to share information on their weapon with civil society, indeed I must thank them for their assistance during my preparation of this presentation while, in fairness, apologising if they do not concur with my conclusions.

Sensor fused weapons audience
I would first like to revive the questions raised in respect of the German manufactured SMArt 155 artillery-based system in the Austcare/Handicap International paper presented during the Wellington conference and which have not been answered by the champions of that particular weapon. Two of those questions are, in my view, of such relevance that I will put them again now. Those of you who are of a high level of technical expertise please excuse my simplistic terminology, but also understand that you will need to descend to our lesser levels of expertise and grasp of technical vocabulary in order to be convincing;

The SMArt 155 is equipped with three sensors – Passive Infrared and passive and active 94GHz millimetre wave radar – an array designed to acquire targets by analysing a combination of thermal (heat) and shape information. Our questions were:

1. Which of the sensors has primacy in the process of acquiring a target? Or, since that question may be too simplistic, how do the three sensors interact in order to acquire a target?

2. The SMArt 155 is designed to acquire a target in a single pass (over the designated target area) – what level of certainty must exist to confirm a target? What level of uncertainty would initiate self-destruct of the submunition or would actively reject a specific target?

These questions could equally apply to the somewhat similar Swedish/French produced BONUS sensor-fuzed submunition, also artillery delivered and incorporating a combination of infrared and laser sensors.

In conversation I have been told that the questions raised in the paper were ‘not relevant’ which makes me wonder what would be a relevant way of getting the answers to what are clearly important questions. I would argue that the days have gone when these questions could be asked and answered within an exclusive circle of arms industry and military experts and the rest of us simply accept that a weapon is acceptable on the basis of their unquestioned expertise. Those days have gone in respect to cluster munitions because those same experts have so consistently got things so completely wrong over a period of more than forty years. How many times would you go back to get your brakes repaired at the garage at the top of the hill which resulted in your crashing into pedestrians at the bottom of the hill? It may seem a tasteless analogy but in respect of cluster munitions It is sadly accurate.

The SMArt155 and the BONUS systems have one other important factor in common – neither have been used in combat. This means we have to take the assurances of manufacturers and those countries who have procured those weapons at face value and on trust and, we assume, following an adequate pre-procurement testing regime. Given the history of cluster munitions and recalling the initial claims made for submunitions such as the BL755, the BLU97B and the M85 we can hardly be blamed for displaying a level of scepticism even when faced with impressive video reconstructions and powerpoint presentations. We have been here before … and past experience has taught us that the sales talk seems never to prepare us for the battlefield reality.

However, unlike the SMArt155 and the BONUS, the US-manufactured BLU108 sensor-fuzed system was deployed during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and this places it in a different category.

The BLU-108 is configured for deployment from a bomb casing, the SUU-66/B tactical munitions dispenser designated either CBU97 or CBU105 – when equipped with a rather Fred Karno style bolt-on tail-fin kit known as a wind corrected munitions dispenser (WCMD) which makes high-altitude deployment possible. Each bomb contains ten ‘posts’ each of which incorporates four submunitions – referred to by Textron as ‘skeet warheads’. Thus each carries forty submunitions. After the bomb opens and the posts are deployed they are each brought into the vertical position by a drogue and a main chute and then the submunitions/skeets are extended, two on each side of the post, a rocket motor is then fired and the post begins to spin, imparting spin to the submunitions which are then ejected at the optimum height and each begins a downward search with its sensor array for a target. The submunition consists of an explosively formed projectile (EFP) designed as a top attack weapon against armoured vehicles and a fragmentation ring – chunks of metal; thus providing soft and hard target lethality, to use the rather bland terminology of the arms trade – in less obscure language that means it will stop a main battle tank, destroy ordinary vehicles and kill and maim people. Each submunition contains a side-mounted, dual-mode passive infrared and active laser sensor – a fairly similar mixed sensor array as the SMArt155 and the BONUS.

Each submunition has impressive safety features:

  • it cannot arm before it is released from the post.
  • the rotation is required to initiate arming.
  • If the sensors have not identified a target before the submunition reaches 50 feet (15 metres) above the ground the submunition will self-destruct.
  • Regardless of the height initiated self-destruct the submunition will self-destruct 8 seconds after ejection from the post.
  • The battery power dissipates ‘minutes’ after release from the post, neutralising the submunition.
  • To give you some idea of scale – each submunition/skeet warhead has a diameter of 127mm and is 95mm in height. It weighs a total of 3.4 kilograms of which 945 grams is explosive content. The explosive used is Octol – an insensitive explosive. I understand that each CBU105 has a cost in the region of US$260,000. The search area of each submunition is reported to be 121,000 square metres.

    In response to my question put to Textron as to whether they feel there is an identifiable genre of weapon which could be grouped under a sensor-fuzed weapon heading, they produced a description of what they would define as a ‘sensor-fuzed weapon’:

    Sensor Fuzed Munitions have unique performance characteristics based on sophisticated subsystems including on-board computers, active and/or passive target detection sensors and software algorithms that detect and engage point targets; while also having self-destruct and self-deactivation features.

    Textron have very publicly placed proportionality high on their agenda, or at least that would appear to be so. In discussion with senior representatives of the company in the past few days they expressed the concerns they had when the weapon was classified as CBU97 and went to the extraordinary length of placing an advertisement in the arms trade press pointing out the responsible nature of the BLU108 in comparison with the BLU-97/B which shared the same munitions dispenser. But this was more than simply product protection, Textron made what seemed then, and still seems now, a brave statement “SFW leaves a clean battlefield” – after all they would know, because their weapon had been used in battle in April 2003 during Operation Iraq Freedom.

    Unfortunately detail to support Textron’s brave claim was not too forthcoming. Defence Industry Daily has referred to the weapon as ‘Cans of Whup Ass’ which may mean something to someone somewhere in the United States but is hardly a technical impact evaluation. The somewhat more restrained Precision Strike Digest in its September/October issue of 2003 reported the first use of BLU108 as ‘a debut with a bang’ and claimed that two weapons (80 submunitions) ‘ … decimated, stopped dead, the entire tank column by killing the whole first one-third of it’. The report went on to quote USAF Lt Col Chris Stockton as saying “The first thing we heard back from the Marines was, ‘Holy (—-)’. That is exactly what you want to hear on the radio from the guy you are supporting.”. Stirring stuff certainly, but not munitions effects evaluation quality information. It would be fair to say that the US government has not been effusive in reporting the weapon’s battlefield achievements, perhaps for military confidentiality reasons.

    The first strike, on April 1st 2003 was close to Baghdad. Later strikes were north of Mosul in the Kurdish area of Iraq. I have found no publicly available records or details of those attacks, although they were probably B52 strikes and definitely in support of US 101st Airborne units. Sometime within the weeks following those attacks a humanitarian demining organisation began to find unexploded BL-108 submunitions in the area. Because they had not encountered the weapon before they requested information from 101st Airborne who ‘removed’ these submunitions from the area.

    One of the technical staff told me, “ When we initially reported the BLU-108 strikes the Screaming Chickens (sic. Slang for 101 Airborne)would turn up quickly and remove them from the site. … After a number of call-outs they became less response … “. At that stage the organisation specialists began to deal with the unexploded submunitions themselves. There were approximately thirty distinct strike sites, estimated to be the result of five CBU’s (97/105), so a probable total of 200 submunitions.

    It can be seen from these photographs that failures have occurred at different times in the deployment cycle.

    This is a post, complete with the submunitions visible inside. This post is visibly damaged, two submunitions remain undeployed.
    This picture shows four submunitions adjacent to the post and appear to have been ejected following impact. The chute can be seen at the top of the picture. These could all be a result of the failure of the post rocket to fire. Shows a post embedded in the ground, submunitions are still in place.
    The submunition in this picture, showing clearly the sensor housing, illustrates how easily unexploded BLU108 submunitions could become sub-surface hazards. Lying on its side the Copper Explosively Formed Projectile can be clearly seen. It should be noted that this would have good scrap value in a post-conflict situation and would be a likely focus for scavenging.
    Three submunitions closely grouped. The specialist I interviewed commented: “The BLU108 warheads were generally grouped together in groups of four and a few sites showed evidence of warhead detonations amongst unexploded warheads. These detonations appear to have occurred on impact rather than target acquisition and fuse detonation above the target” A close up of the designation plate on one post.
    The Electronics Unit from a BLU108 post. Shows a complete post after the warheads have been deployed – the four flip-out arms which carry the submunitions can be seen clearly. This example has been cleaned and used for training. It seems likely that the metal content would make this weapon a target for scavenging.

    One obvious question was whether any targets were acquired, it seems probable that a number were, I was told: “There were several destroyed vehicle chassis in the strike area but far fewer than I would have expected. … it seemed that each vehicle was probably hit more than once ..”
    The overall evaluation of the field specialist who dealt with the Mosul strikes was that failures were due to a wide range of reasons, his closing comment was “Personally I feel that BLU108 was an expensive over-engineered weapon which did not perform to expected standards”

    A report on the disposal of BLU108 submunitions included the following key notes:

    “A remote projectile attack on the warhead did not separate the warhead electronics unit due to two strong bolts attaching the two components together.

    The warhead was struck using 7.62mm projectiles fired from a protected firing position. The warhead was tumbled several times with no detonations or reactions being observed.
    Warheads were finally disposed of using explosive donor charges.

    Donor charges were placed beside the warhead in close proximity to the darker, forward section (Shaped Charge end) of the warhead. This donor charge was detonated at right angles to the munition, ensuring that the detonating wave struck the warhead at 90°.

    Consideration was given to the direction of the shaped charge and an earth mound was positioned infront of the warhead to counter the problem in the unlikely event of an EFP being formed. Deformation of any EFP should be ensured by the position of the donor charge.”


    This research into the impact and problems associated with deployment of BLU108 in Iraq is not complete but raises a number of serious questions regarding the reliability of BLU108, especially when measured against claims made for the weapon by manufacturers, specifically as follows:

    • 99% reliability: While it has not been possible to calculate a percentage reliability without full details of the number of weapons actually deployed in the Mosul area, it is clear from the clearance team’s overview and generally available figures for use of BLU108 during Operationa Iraqi Freedom that the percentage of submunitions which have failed is higher than 1%. Perhaps substantially so.
    • No Hazardous UXO: It seems probable that manufacturers and users would claim that the failed submunitions had self-neutralised and were therefore non-hazardous. However, given that many of the submunitions appear to have failed to operate as designed this is not a safe assumption. At best, these unexploded submunitions would deny access to land for civilian communities until cleared.
    • The BLU108 provides ‘..a safer, reasonable and responsible alternative to legacy cluster munitions’: That argument is not supported on the basis of this evidence.
    • Leaves a Clean Battlefield: The BLU108 quite clearly does not leave a clean battlefield.

    This is not to say that the BLU108 is not a safer, more stable weapon than many existing, previous generation cluster munitions, it would seem that is the case. However, the BLU108 has been developed over many years, with enormous budgets, by the world’s best-resourced nation with the added advantage of having produced more of the world’s unacceptable cluster munitions than any other country. All the necessary skills and experience were available and yet the BLU108 doesn’t work. If the United States struggles to produce a reliable cl;uster munition using sensor fuzing, how likely is it that lesser resourced nations could do so?

    We can make some judgements regarding the reasons for the failures seen in Iraq, but we don’t know the detail or scale of the problems and, it would seem, that Textron are not even aware that their weapon has these problems. On November 13 last Textron announced a contract to supply BLU108 to the United Arab Emirates beginning this year.

    These uncertainties point strongly to the dangers of a blanket exemption under the Dublin Treaty for a category of weapons termed ‘sensor fuzed weapons’ – BLU108, on this evidence, could not be exempted. BONUS and SMArt 155 are untried and unproven. This is why the Cluster Munition Coalition have argued for a comprehensive ban on all cluster munitions which cause unacceptable harm to civilians. Weapons which do not have those effects must be clearly demonstrated to fall outside the treaty definition – I would suggest that this will, for many countries, require a far more rigorous testing and procurement regime than currently exists.

    There were no civilian casualties as a result of these unexploded submunitions, but we have no way of knowing whether that would have been the result had an NGO, a civil society response, not been in the area, nor do we know the results and consequences of other ‘successful attacks’ in other parts of Iraq. What we do know is that the only sensor fuzed weapon to have been used in battle did not work as designed – I hope that delegates in this conference will draw the correct conclusions from that fact.


    Rae McGrath, Spokesperson on Cluster Munitions
    Handicap International Network
    Dublin 21st May 2008

    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.

    County Mayo

    We loaded up for the long drive to County Mayo and the beginning of the Famine Walk the next day.

    The drive southwest took us through many an iconic Irish town Like Ballyshannon and Donegal till we were deep in the west country. This is a stunning part on Ireland and the Famine Walk will commemorate the suffering of so many Irish during the Famine of the 1840’s and 1850’s. This period of failed crops and land evictions was responsible for the halving of the Irish population from 8 million to 4 million people. Many died and those who didn’t tried to emigrate to America and Australia. The land lords had indeed succeeded in acquiring the land at the expense of the ordinary Irish farmer.

    ban cluster bombs! Famine walk in County Mayo
    In the late 1840’s during the height of the famine it was said that food relief was available along this path. Many who were skeletal and barely alive walked this road in search of the food warehouse at the end. When they arrived they were turned away. The food was there but the bureaucrats refused to distribute it. As the starving tried to return the way they came, a storm blew up and many collapsed into the lake and died from the cold or just collapsed on the path and perished where they lay. This was a tragedy that was just one of the many tragedies the Irish suffered in those days.

    ban cluster bombs girl
    We arrived in Westport and went in search of the house we were to use outside of town. Sarah from Galway was lending us a place that her family owned there. We found it and were unpacking when she arrived in a small panic. We had to stay somewhere else as the house was to be viewed for sale in the morning. She had an alternative though, a caravan nearby to where the walk would start from. We headed over there.

    It was a rowdy night in the van with all of us and Sarah and her friend. The vision of a boarding school dormitory sprang to mind. Not the most restful sleep any of us had but it was in great company so in the morning we took a walk on the beach then headed to the town that would be the end of the walk.

    ban cluster bombs. County Mayo. Famine walk
    We picked up Andy Story who we had met in Dublin at the start of this whole process and drove the ten miles out of town to the banks of a lake where the walk would begin. The scenery was stunning and it hid the horror of the walk from 150 years before. Imaginations would need to suffice here. The busses arrived and the lakeside filled up till there were about 300 or more people waiting for the start of the walk.

    Ban cluster bombs.
    Joe Murray the organiser said a few words and handed over to the key note speakers. The first spoke of water problems and the privatisation of the Irish water system, then the second spoke of oil, profit and war. I was the final speaker and gave them a fast and aggressive view on the cluster bomb problem and what was needed to be done. The crowd were certainly roused and we headed of on the walk. We led at a quick pace and it was an incredible sight to look back and see a snake of people weaving along the banks of the lake. The walk had begun.

    The whole ten miles were filled with conversations about cluster bombs and at the half way break we gave out more T-shirts to any who wanted them. A strong presence had been established and many said they would come to Dublin the next weekend and attend the public march.

    famine walk certificates
    We finally arrived in Louisburg and all flocked to the nearest pub. Guinness flowed by the gallon and tired feet were cooled in the stream. I was so inspired by the people I had met that I felt sad to have to leave in the morning. The night would at least be spent socialising and networking.

    Rae rants: Comments on Kevin Myers article

    On Kevin Myers “Cluster bombs are evil, but banning them is pointless” in the Irish Independent, 15 May 2008.
    And here is a PDF version of his article in the Irish Independent: kevin-myers

    Kevin Myer Independent IE

    Rae’s Rant:

    Opinions based on the minimum of available fact are perhaps excusable in a bar-room discussion but you are an experienced and professional journalist with the resources and responsibility to research your subject thoroughly, so your careless analysis of the cluster munitions issue was unprofessional. You began your article by raising the issue of landmines then two paragraphs later challenged your readers to name a weapon that once invented had been successfully banned. Er … landmines, actually. The 1997 treaty comprehensively banned anti-personnel mines. If you wish to check how successful it has been go to

    The case against cluster munitions is based on two problems displayed by the weapon genre in every use since it was first widely deployed by the United States in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam during the Vietnam war. 1. The weapon is indiscriminate – this will commonly make its use illegal under exisiting international laws. 2. The post-attack and sustained post-conflict impact on civilians is disproportionate.

    Your argument is based largely on the fact that weapons work – and some certainly do. However, over more than ten years of asking, I have never heard a single credible account of cluster munitions achieving any substantial military advantage and certainly nothing which could not have been better achieved by targeted unitary weapons.

    Your final paragraph shows a startling ingorance of the roots of the campaign against cluster munitions. Many of those who have fought against the weapon over the past fifteen years have been those who work in the field clearing landmines and unexploded cluster submunitions, many of them former soldiers, some of them serving soldiers – the majority know conflict very well – both as soldiers and as de-miners; please don’t lecture us on the realities – far better to ask us for the facts before sitting down to write in ignorance.

    Rae McGrath

    Derry, – The Walled City

    A local NGO called Children in Cross Fire was sorting out presentations and logistics for us here and we called Helen and arranged to meet us at the location of our first presentation. It was an old stately home in Derry that was now a community centre. The staff of Children in Cross Fire came along with a bunch of other local folk as well as the media. Two of the newspapers photographRaytheon Protest

    Helen is another person who is a real mover and shaker. She has been very involved with community development and trying to get dialogue going through the sectarian divide. Her NGO is very community based and has representatives from all sides of the religious and political spectrum. She had a very busy schedule lined up for us from schools to public talks and a protest at an arms company.

    When we arrived in Derry we were straight to the old home for our first talk. These were people who actively make a difference in the community and a place like Derry really needs those slow and gentle hands to put the past behind them. The talk is about the problem but finishes in what they can do to make the process move forward. Just as we were about to begin a car pulled up and it was Rae who had pulled so much of this project together with an old mate Kevin.

    Kevin Bryant and John Rodsted

    Kevin is ex British military and a bomb disposal expert. He has had a long and difficult career in some of the world’s most difficult circumstances. He also knows how bad communities are affected by cluster bombs and landmines as he was blown up by a landmine in Lebanon in 2002. He lost his left leg. Kevin has a wry sense of humour and when you ask if where he lost his leg he quips that he never lost as he knows exactly where he was blown up. No self pity here. He got over the injury, had an artificial leg fitted and got back in the field to clear more bomb and mines. He will now travel with us for the rest of the Ban Bus trip and tag team with us over various aspects of the problem.

    The presentations are working out really well with me setting the overall scene then Kevin talking about the problem of clearance followed by Mette talking about training communities to survive their future in a dangerous environment. The pace is good and no one gets sleepy or bored.

    This is now the team we will run with till the end. Mette, Raechel, Kevin and me. Helen from Children in Crossfire had a protest lined up for us outside of Raytheon for the evening so we headed there after a radio interview.

    The Raytheon company manufactures components and guidance systems for the arms industry. We drove to an industrial estate on the edge of Derry and turned the corner and found a traffic jam blocking the road. Jim was dressed in a white suit with a home made bomb detector and had copy BLU-97’s scattered across the road. He was ‘demining’ and handing out information to all cars in his peak hour traffic jam.

    We drove the Ban Bus onto the pavement and got in amongst it. One of our signs said honk for a ban and many cars responded. Anyone who walked by or had their windows open was given more information and T-shirts. In general we got great responses. We handed out a few hundred leaflets, badges, stickers and T-shirts till the rush hour was waning then headed for a local playground for a picnic with the local campaigners.

    Derry has a long history of activism and these people had kept a solid presence up outside Raytheon for over eight years. The general support has been good in Derry for most forms of activism from civil society but there are moves behind the shadows that could drop the Raytheon 9 in Prison for 5 years.
    ban cluster bombs. Derry

    Their siege and trashing of Raytheon ended in arrest and now the trial begins next week. The location has been moved from Derry to Belfast as the prosecution feels there is too much support in Derry for them. When they were arrested the police also invoked the Terrorism act. This is a really serious situation as it meant their arrest became a secret and the press couldn’t report on it. The next set of powers exercised by the state was to convene a trial without a jury. All of these powers are due to the Terrorism act. The only win the defendants have had is a reinstatement of a trial by jury. At least they will be heard in front of their ‘peers’.

    The following morning we hit the road early for a series of school visits. The kids are an open book and keen for knowledge. The overriding feeling from them was the unfairness of any use of cluster bombs. It’s good to get the kids motivated but a little bribery goes along way too.

    A talk like ours is quite intimidating for them so when we opened the room for questions, there was a stone silence. Ok, T-shirts, who wants to get a T-shirt for a good question? The hands shot up and a barrage of fantastic questions flowed forth. At the end they certainly went away with a greater opinion than when they started. We rolled onto the next school.

    Ban cluster bombs talk at St. Bridgis School
    The two schools are quite different as one was a catholic school and the next was integrated between protestant and catholic students. The sectarian divide is deep and real here so anything that bridges that gap is an important initiative. The really nice part is that the kids are the same in both schools. Kids are enquiring and keen and have a basis of justice to them. It’s the bigotries fed them by adults that mould them into one sect or another. Maybe a little exposure to us and our message might file away the point of fairness for all.

    Ban cluster bombs. Talking at Sandinos in Derry
    That night we were to meet up with Eammon McCann again for a public talk at a bar in town. Santino’s is a popular meeting place amongst many activists with a social conscience. The upstairs bar was handed over to us and it filled quickly. Eammon set the scene and talked about his trial that would begin next week. He was as motivating as before and was also able to accept the fact that in a few weeks he may be jailed for up to five years. He was totally unrepentant for his actions too and I feel he would storm Raytheon again given half the chance.

    Ban cluster bombs
    He passed the floor to me and I definitely felt inspired by him and launched into one of the most aggressive and passionate talks that I’d delivered for along time. People’s faces were contorted by the facts and some cried. I passed to Kevin and then to Mette and together we built the full story then adjourned for a beer. Tomorrow we would be moving on and although we are activists, we are not facing prison. Eammon and his friends will possibly lose their freedom in a few weeks for being the same kind of activists. To me, this would be an incarceration with a totally political agenda as the crime would out weight the act of simple vandalism which is all smashing computers in an arms manufacturer is.

    We had one more call to do the following morning back to our original school as we had made quite an impact it seems. We had also picked up a video journalist from Australia who would follow the last few days of the Ban Bus and then follow the treaty negotiations.

    This group of kids were a few years older and the level of understanding and questioning was excellent. Given more time we would have been able to hit so many forums and schools as the word was out and people wanted to hear what we had to say. As we headed out of town we diverted through Bogside which was the heart of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. This is an area that takes your breath away. The building ends have massive murals from the Troubles from the years gone by. Massive photographic quality paintings adorned the ends of the buildings. Many were copied form famous photographs from that time and there was a distinct feeling of familiarly with them.