Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Of Democracies and Cluster Bombs

So the new buzz word is that of the "rogue democracy"--the state that finds itself in alignment with the autocracies like China to frustrate the aims of the democratic community of nations.

Well, the U.S. finds itself in good company tonight. One hundred eleven states--many of them democracies--have representatives gathered in Dublin to ban the use of cluster bombs. VOA News: reports

"The U.S., Israel, Russia, China, India and Pakistan are not present at the Dublin meeting."

The fact that the U.S. shares a similar form of government with most of the states represented in Dublin--and the treaty is being championed by our closest ally, the United Kingdom--does not mean that the U.S. finds itself in agreement as to not using a weapons system. Yet I don't hear many DC pundits or foreign policy advisors arguing, at least not yet, that the U.S. cannot have the same position as China when most other democracies are opposed.

Not surprisingly, India, perhaps one of the candidates for the "rogue democracy" label, prefers to keep its own sovereign judgment as to how it will defend itself.

What is interesting to see is where we go from here. The Times of London noted:

"The signatories of the proposed convention will now try to put pressure on the nations who have refused to play a part in the negotiations to change their policy. Gordon Brown, who ordered the British negotiators to support a total ban, said: “We will now work to encourage the widest possible international support for the new convention."

So it is entirely possible that the UK and Australia might try to reverse-engineer the League of Democracies argument to put pressure on the U.S.; they also might, in the future, condition their participation in other joint military activities with the U.S. on a tacit American acceptance of the ban. What will be the response, though, if that line of argument is used?


It is a pity that this gathering couldn't have been scheduled nine months later so that the next US President could take a position on the issue.

One uncertainty is exactly what is meant by these munitions. Land mines are under development that can be activated and deactivated remotely. If these are practical, they could remove the danger to civilians in the aftermath of a war. I am not convinced that these things are all that safe but they may give a future Republican President a way to justify abstention from a general ban on land mines. Cluster bombs on the other hand may not be possible to render safe and in that case they should be treated like chemical weapons.

You raise a more interesting question in suggesting that the UK and other English-speaking democracies have interests apart from those of the United States. The US, UK, Canada, Australia, and to a lesser extent New Zealand have cooperated in security matters for a long time. But the Commonwealth countries are also distinct in important ways. Democratic states that speak to the world on issues like these may do so more powerfully if they can do so effectively and independently. At the very least they challenge us to justify our position in a way that we ought to be challenged to justify it.
An interesting point, David. It is always interesting to note, however, that the U.S. never acknowledges when a group of democracies takes a stand that opposes a U.S. policy--foreign or domestic, like the death penalty--that it ever feels necessary to have to justify itself to other democracies on any sort of shared value ground. Then, the U.S. becomes just like China--sovereignty first.
The violations of the Chemical Weapons treaty by Iraq was aided and abetted by US & EU. CTBT is languishing. And you want to ban Cluster Bombs? Is this not silly? The Titanic is sinking and you are worried about spilt water in the State rooms?
Anonymous 6:53,

I agree. I would note that foreign democracies could engage in public diplomacy with the American people on points like these. I don't think the potential for influence is all one way.
Anonymous 10:42,

If 100+ governments agree to ban certain munitions and abide by the ban, the world is better off than if none had agreed to do so. It is discouraging that the largest nations have not joined but I don't see why that condition is necessarily irreversible.

I don't think very many Americans see the US backing of Saddam Hussein against Iran in the 1980s as a model for future American behavior.
David, the United States Government are incapable of being shamed into civilized behavior.

Nor have the USG learned anything from the consequences of backing Saddam against Iran, or various terroristic Islamist fundamentalist lunatics against the Soviets.

The USG is a lawless rogue.
David Billington:

The issue is no longer the past policies of USG, EU, and others. The issue is are the international instruments of disarmament worthless? If so, let us state it and move on. If not, let us state it and strengthen them.

And why is space being militarized?

How long before nuclear weapons in space? 10 years, 20 years?

Why worry about cluster bombs?
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