Thursday, December 04, 2008

Banning cluster bombs

Earlier this year, a disarmament conference in Wellington hammered out a draft agreement to ban cluster bombs. Today, the resulting document - the Convention on Cluster Munitions - was formally opened for signature in Oslo. And New Zealand will be among the first to sign it.

This is something to be proud of. New Zealand has played a key role in developing this treaty, and by doing so, we've made the world a better place. Cluster bombs are totally indiscriminate weapons which attack an area without any distinction between military and civilian targets and are intentionally designed to create a long-term danger to civilian lives. A global ban on their use is a Good Thing. And while major cluster bomb using states such as the US and Russia are refusing to sign, the stigma created by the Convention is likely to significantly reduce their deployment and use of these weapons (not to mention their export markets). And in the case of the US, they won't be using them from (most of) their bases in Europe anymore.

It's an interesting question whether we would have played such a role under a National government. On the one hand, the principle of an independent, multilateral, humanitarian foreign policy is now well-established, at least with the public. OTOH, National's natural instinct is to toady to the US, even when the latter's actions are morally indefensible (see: Iraq). The latter I think would have seen us bow out and ally with the murderer-countries to oppose progress, rather than working to make the world a better place. And what worries me is that the next three years will see us abrogating our role as a voice for human rights in the name of not offending National's key ally. This is something I will be very pleased to be wrong about.