Stop the fence-sitting in cluster bomb use

Source: The post is based on the article “Stop the fence-sitting in cluster bomb use” published in The Hindu on 10th August 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – International Relations – International Treaty and Organization

Relevance: International law related to prohibition of cluster bombs

News: The decision by the United States to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine as part of a military aid package aimed at supporting Ukraine’s conflict with Russia has sparked controversy.

What are cluster bombs/munitions?

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Human Rights Watch claims that Russia deployed cluster bombs against Ukraine in cities like Kharkiv, causing civilian casualties and damaging homes, hospitals, and schools. Ukraine’s adoption of these weapons will exacerbate the situation.

Which international treaty prevents the use of cluster bombs?

The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), enacted in 2008, prohibits cluster bomb use, production, stockpiling, and transfer under Article 1. The convention also requires countries to destroy existing stockpiles of cluster munitions in their possession.

Countries are also legally bound to create victim support programs for cluster bomb survivors within their jurisdiction, ensuring aid and recovery.

However, the treaty isn’t universal; 112 nations, including several NATO members like Canada, Germany, France, and the UK, have joined the CCM.

Whereas, countries like the U.S., Russia, China, Israel, and India, along with Ukraine, have not ratified it.

Since both Russia and Ukraine are not signatories to CCM, it may be argued that they are not bound by any international law. However, there are other laws that prevent the use of cluster bombs.

Must Read: Explained: What are cluster bombs and thermobaric weapons, allegedly used by Russia against Ukrainians?

What are other international laws that prevent the use of cluster bombs?

An essential principle of customary international law (CIL) in times of war is the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks. This signifies that the application of force must be selective, targeting distinct military targets rather than civilians.

This CIL norm is codified in Article 51(4) of Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which both Russia and Ukraine have ratified.

Another crucial principle of international humanitarian law applicable in this context is proportionality, which is codified in Article 51(5) of Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

This rule forbids the disproportionate application of force that results in unintended harm to civilians or civilian structures, in comparison to the expected military advantages.

Is the US violating international law by supplying cluster bombs to Ukraine?

The US, not bound by CCM, doesn’t breach international law by providing cluster bombs. Moreover, the U.S.-made cluster bombs have a low rate of explosion compared to Russians. However, still, supplying such weapons is an irresponsible act.

What can be the way ahead?

Universal prohibition of cluster bomb usage, possession, transfer, and supply, as outlined in the CCM, requires global adherence. This requires all UN member nations to join the CCM and eliminate cluster bombs.

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