Cluster munitions are a real and serious problem in many parts of the world, particularly in poorer countries recovering from conflict. Unexploded ordnance can remain in the ground for decades. They threaten the lives of civilians and become a real obstacle to post-conflict reconstruction and development. And it is so often civilians that suffer the consequences. So today marks a small but important step forward in the journey towards a global ban because on 1 November the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) enters into force in the UK.
As many of you reading this will know, the Convention bans the use, development, production, stockpiling or transferring of cluster munitions. Those signing up to the Convention also commit to clearing cluster munitions remnants from the territory they control and destroying munitions stockpiles. The Convention opened for signature in Oslo in December 2008 and over a hundred countries have so far signed, including Sweden, while 43 States, including the UK, have ratified.
We are around half way through the process of destroying the UK stockpile of cluster munitions and are on target to complete the process ahead of the deadline, in 2013. Meanwhile we are doing what we can to support efforts to end the suffering and casualties caused by cluster munitions around the world by contributing over £10 million a year to clearing landmines and other unexploded ordnance, including cluster munitions. But the process doesn’t stop there. The UK is committed to working towards a global ban on cluster munitions and putting an end to a weapon that continues today to cause so much suffering for civilians. The first meeting of the states that are part of the Convention takes place in a week’s time in Laos.
A further thought on this. The UN gets a lot of criticism when the world fails to pull together to act as one. But there are no other organisations that have the scope and legitimacy to put together a global agreement to end cluster munitions. And when this works, things really happen. I remember in the 1980s listening to what seemed like daily news reports of shifting and growing holes in the ozone layer, a cataclysmic vulnerability that threatened widespread and adverse effects for human health and the environment. The Montreal Protocol put a stop to the problem. It’s a problem that we solved with a UN agreement.
So my hope today is that our ratification of the cluster munitions convention will make a Montreal Difference. But I have another hope. Because the negotiators are now in the process of putting together a new Arms Trade Treaty to stop weapons reaching those who try to undermine stability and democracy, harm development and abuse human rights. The arms trade also needs a Montreal Difference.