In depth

The interview

Interview with Thomas Nash

In this interview, Thomas Nash, the coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) tells us about the highs and lows of the convention on cluster munitions, while also discussing possible ways of broadening the fight for disarmament. This interview has been edited from a selection of the questions and answers of the debate held in Barcelona last November the 23rd in Barcelona, to where he was invited by the Catalan NGO Fundació per la Pau (Foundation for Peace).

Thomas Nash

Thomas Nash

The treaty has already been signed, but when will it be in force? Is it a good treaty?
It is expected that the six countries needed to obtain the 30 necessary signatories will ratify it before the end of 2009. This means that we can expect the treaty to be in force on June the 1st or on July the 1st 2010. Like all other treaties, it is a compromise between diverse positions, but we believe it is a good treaty. One of its strong points is article 5, referring to the assistance to victims. It is an extremely unusual case in international treaties, because it is stronger than the draft debated in the last negotiations, in the Dublin Conference of May 2008. Normally, negotiations water down the drafts, but in this case it was exactly the opposite, and the result is a very strong article on the assistance to victims. This could have important implications in the future; for instance, by widening the definition of victims to include also the families and the affected communities. Furthermore, there is the compulsion of data compilation and measurement of the impact of cluster bombs, along with the obligation of not discriminating against the victims who have similar wounds from other types of weapons. The combination of these two obligations implies that the countries acquire the responsibility of compiling data of all the victims of armed conflict. This can have many far-reaching implications in the future of human security.

How would you define the role of the United States and the other countries that have not signed the treaty?
In this kind of treaty, we often have to choose between a good treaty with some countries missing or a weak treaty signed by all. In the case of cluster bombs, I think we can consider it a good treaty. The United States did not sign it, because half of its present weapons stockpile is formed by cluster bombs. They clearly made a bad investment in the 70s. But this does not mean that they do not feel committed to the treaty's spirit. This is very significant in the case of cluster bombs; the United States did not sign the Ottawa treaty, but since its enforcement there is no evidence that they have continued producing or exporting them. And even more significantly, it is one of the countries with a larger budget dedicated to the deactivation of mines and to the education of the risks that the mines involve in the affected territories. In the Cartagena de Indias summit, held in Colombia in November 2009, the United States participated, for the very first time, in a conference dedicated to the revision of the anti-mine treaty. This is a very important achievement for many reasons. Among them, because their participation implies the commitment to assume 22% of the conference's costs, adjusting to the distribution scheme followed by the United Nations' meetings, with the nations contributing according to their wealth. This means that the richer countries' participation is larger than that of the poorer nations. It is also positive that the United States have approved a national ban on cluster bomb exports with an error margin of less than 1% that, according to our estimates, are the immense majority. In any case, for us it is important to manage that the nations most affected by this problem be part of the convention, because the treaty includes important provisions related to the victims' assistance, which would mean a considerable difference in the situation of these countries.

Following the terms of the treaty, is it possible for a Spanish company to produce cluster bombs in another country that has not signed the treaty?
The treaty explicitly bans the manufacturing of cluster bombs in third countries –who have not signed the treaty- by the companies belonging to countries that are signatories. Despite this specification, we are aware that if they want to, they can find the way to go around this clause. And this is where it is important that civil society be on guard to avoid this happening. Reason is on our side; if this happened, it would be a clear violation of the treaty's spirit.

According to the treaty, is it possible for the American military bases in Spain to maintain cluster bomb arsenals?
The answer to this question is similar to the one I gave to the previous one. It all depends on how the treaty is interpreted and, in this case, the 21st article, in its reference to joint operations; in other words, the participation of a state that has signed the treaty in joint operations with other countries that are not signatories and who do use this type of weapon. If we read this article literally, the treaty would allow it. But we chose the broader and most coherent interpretation. We believe that allowing this would go against the spirit of the treaty. And, in fact, the United Kingdom is questioning –at this very moment- that the American military bases in their country should not have any cluster bomb stocks, following the aforementioned far-reaching and coherent interpretation.

What can be done regarding the financing of companies that manufacture cluster bombs?
Regarding this point, I would like to mention two examples of good practice: Belgium and Ireland, two countries that have banned by law the financial investments in companies that manufacture cluster bombs. Even so, it is fundamentally a question of pragmatism. We believe that there is not a market for this kind of weaponry in the future. It is not a good commercial concept, because the treaty stigmatizes this kind of weapons. In fact, we have just started a campaign with that goal in mind: Stop Explosive Investments. In Spain there are also banks who invest in companies who are manufacturing cluster bombs and this is something we have publicly condemned. If you want to know if your savings are helping to finance cluster bombs visit the following web:

Given that international conventions are only binding for countries, how can non-state actors be pressured into abiding by the spirit of the treaty?
There is the Geneva Call, an organization dedicated to engaging non-state armed actors into ceasing to use landmines, and we know that they are actively working to include cluster bombs in their goals. Even so, in this case the main problem is different from the one posed by mines, because, nowadays, the vast majority of cluster bombs are not in the hands of non-state actors, they are stockpiled by the states themselves. If we manage to convince these states into destroying their stockpile of cluster bombs and to stigmatize the use of these bombs we believe that this will also prevent their exportation and posterior large-scale use by non-state armed actors. So in the case of cluster bombs the –basically preventive- problem, is different from the one posed by landmines and the solution has to be also different, even though we will collaborate with Geneva Call in order to obtain commitment of non-usage of this type of weaponry from the non-state armed actors.

What is the relation of the CMC with other networks and, specifically, with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines?
This is an important point that has a lot to do with the strategic behaviour of the social movements dealing with these issues. We believe that there has to be a balance between the specificities and the synergies that we can produce if we collaborate and work together. As far as landmines are concerned and regarding the obvious links between these two issues, it is very probable that in the future there will still be two campaigns, with their own identity, but probably with more coordination and cooperation mechanisms. Probably even with a joint directing board. In any case, this is still only a proposal that has to be accepted by the bases of both networks, by the NGOs working with cluster bombs issues and the NGOs working on landmine issues, because not all NGOs work with both issues.

We have banned landmines, we have banned cluster bombs… what is next along the line?
As you know, in July 2012 there will be a crucial conference where a treaty regulating arms trade should be signed. This is a key issue in the fight for disarmament in the near future, but it does not intend to implement a prohibition, its aim is to regulate the global arms trade. Regarding the prohibition of specific weapons, we believe we have to advance on the plan dedicated to explosive arms as a specific and coherent category within the different kinds of weapons. When we created the CMC, we had to present the problem of cluster bombs as if they were very special weapons. And, in reality, they are not. But it is also true that the same problems (indiscriminate effects that are not in proportion with the harm they intend to cause) can be found in all explosive weapons. What distinguishes cluster bombs from other explosive weapons is the scale of these effects, but the causes behind their prohibition are the same. So this means we have a huge field of operations in front of us. In this sense, we believe that the first step that has to be taken in the issue of explosive arms is at the level of discourse, in order to identify them as a specific category of weapon. For example: the police forces around the world do not use this kind of weapons, because they consider that they have indiscriminate and disproportionate effects. So this is a line that should not be crossed. And this is where we have to continue our work.

Interview by Javier Alcalde.