Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cluster Bombs

The BBC reports today that more than one hundred countries have agreed to back an international ban on the production, transfer, stockpiling and use of cluster munitions. The problems associated with these weapons - chiefly that unexploded "bomblets" remain on the battlefield and pose a danger to civilians long after the fighting ends - were put on full display after Israel's extensive use of cluster munitions during the 2006 Lebanon war.

The report notes that the U.S., China and Russia (among others) have refused to back the agreement, raising some question as to how effective it will actually be. Marc Garlasco of Human Rights Watch evidently believes that the treaty has some value, noting that a similar group of countries refused to sign the 1997 treaty banning land mines, but that the stigma created by the ban has established a strong norm against their use to which even non-signatory countries have adhered.

This is actually a very interesting test case that political scientists would do well to watch over the next decade or two. I recall from my undergraduate days that the debate over what effect, if any, behavioral norms have on international actors remains one of the principal controversies of the study of international relations. Whether or not a normative principal established by the world community, but rejected by a number of Great Powers, can nevertheless compel compliance is the kind of question that theorists love to ask but seldom get to test. The next time the U.S., Russia, China or Israel goes to war (and trust me, there will be a "next time" for at least some within that group), see how, if at all, they use cluster munitions. It would make for a great paper.

No comments: