2014 columns, Politics

How to make treaties and influence people

by David Donaldson , April 28, 2014Leave a comment

cluster munition

Image credit: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Do we not live in a world where the common good will inevitably continue to be trampled by self-interested states?

Moreover, if countries like the US, Russia and China can break the rules when they choose, how on earth can a medium-sized country like Australia make the world a better place?

There are, however, a few examples where small- and medium-sized states have used diplomacy to strengthen international law, and in turn improve people’s lives around the world. One such example is the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The aim of the Convention is to address the unacceptable harm caused to civilians by cluster munitions through a categorical prohibition of the weapon. Cluster munitions are a type of weapon that open mid-air to release a large number of smaller bombs, known as submunitions, which then spread out over an area.

There are two key reasons why cluster munitions are seen as particularly bad. Firstly, the submunitions released from each shell are usually spread over an area comparable to that of a football field, making cluster bombs particularly effective against groups of people. This includes advancing armies, but can also mean civilians.

Secondly, thanks to differing explosive rates among cluster shells, many submunitions do not explode on impact and effectively become landmines, killing and maiming people for decades after war ends. They are particularly effective at killing children and blowing limbs off adults. Today there are still thousands of unexploded cluster munitions scattered across several previously war-torn states.

Based on the Mine Ban Treaty – another example of successful middle-power diplomatic advocacy – the Convention prohibits all use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Although cluster munitions first became a target of activism in the 1970s, when Sweden and the International Committee of the Red Cross registered their horror at their effect during the Vietnam war, calls to ban these weapons did not gather momentum until around 2006, when Israel fired more than a million cluster bomb submunitions into southern Lebanon.

Following a failure to act by the established multilateral disarmament forums, in 2007 Norway initiated a process with the aim of banning cluster munitions, only inviting countries predisposed to a ban to the negotiations. The US opposed the creation of the Convention, and has tried to undermine it in a number of ways. Nonetheless, today there are 84 full states parties to the treaty, and 29 more have signed on to eventually accept full membership of the Convention. Among these are Germany, France and the UK, all of which previously held sizable collections; the UK even used them in Iraq.

Admittedly, the three main possessors of cluster munitions – the US, Russia and Israel – have all refused to sign up to the agreement. But at least fifteen states that did once own a stockpile of cluster munitions have completed destruction of their entire arsenal. Many others that have never held cluster munitions have agreed never to consider doing so. At least half of the states which formerly manufactured the weapons have ceased production.

It is difficult to know what the practical impact of the Convention has been, as full-scale war is relatively uncommon. Nonetheless, cluster munitions do not appear to have been used in either the 2011 attack on Libya, nor in the 2012 Gaza war, which may be a sign that even those countries that refuse to get rid of them are loath to actually use cluster munitions because of the international backlash that may ensue.

Although the Convention is still a work in progress and is far from universal, it demonstrates that international law can have an impact on the behaviour of states – and this impact has been in no less than the realm of military decision-making, the area usually considered most impervious to international legal intervention.

If tiny Norway can play such a significant role in using the international system to improve the lives of people around the world – saving them from death, bereavement or disability – then there is no reason why Australia could not do the same.

David Donaldson is a Master of International Relations graduate who lives in Melbourne. He tweets @davidadonaldson.

ACO logo




daniel-handler

Kate Harper

‘I think about terrible things happening’: An interview with Daniel Handler

Given the current age of acute media-fuelled panic over childhood trauma and accidentally fucking them up, Daniel Handler’s (aka Lemony Snicket) dastardly depictions of children fighting to survive can be read as tales of wonder. Kate Harper chats to Handler ahead of his upcoming Melbourne appearances. Read more »

o-MAGGIE-NELSON-900

James Tierney

Usefully Uncertain: A review of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts in nine fragments

I first read Maggie Nelson in the April of last year, during the early feverish stages of an autumn cold. Her slim 2009 volume Bluets is a bare and consonant appraisal of blue – as a colour, as music, as meaning sexual content and the fuzzy indigo of depression. Read more »

2010_03_29

Nathan Smith

Writing about the New Yorker: A genre unto itself

In the introduction to her 1999 book Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker, the famed American journalist and essayist Renata Adler opens with: ‘As I write this, The New Yorker is dead.’ Read more »

One-Direction

Rebecca Shaw

Right Direction: The value of fandom

I have a pop-culture confession to make to you, Internet. It isn’t something I’ve been trying to keep hidden for fear of seeming uncool, because that ship sailed long ago. But it is something I haven’t opened up about until this point. I, Rebecca Shaw, have become a One Direction fan. Read more »

abortion

Rebecca Shaw

Choice Without Stigma: Dismantling the abortion taboo

Abortion is still illegal in the criminal code in Queensland – even in this, the Year of Our Beyoncé 2015. While women are unlikely to face practical obstacles to abortion due to the law, it can still cause isolation and unnecessary fear, and creates a stigma around the act. Read more »

17177200132_2383e88c36_k

Rebecca Shaw

Rage Against the Marriage: The inanity of same sex marriage debate in Australia

I am someone who is completely comfortable in my sexuality, and who classifies myself as the genus Lesbionisos. I am 100% certain that I am not abnormal, an abomination, or in any way inferior to heterosexual people. Sometimes I even secretly think non-heterosexuals might be superior. But I haven’t always been this assured. Read more »

The_Gift_2015_Film_Poster1

Anwen Crawford

Memorable Chills: Edgerton’s Gift

The Gift is Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut — he also wrote, produced, and stars in it — and it bodes well for Edgerton’s directing career. A psychological thriller, The Gift is efficiently and quite memorably chilling, at least for the first half. Read more »

wolfpack-1024

Joanna Di Mattia

Escaping The Wolfpack: Inside and outside the screen

The Wolfpack introduces us to the six Angulo brothers, who were kept virtual prisoners for 14 years in their Lower East Side apartment. More than a captivity narrative, this is a film about the influence of cameras and screens, and the transfixing, liberating power of cinema. Read more »

f9a2809e-97eb-400d-b491-b4b6a6f09930-2060x1236

Clem Bastow

Telling Stories: Women screenwriters and the obligation to represent

There is something in the recent call to arms for female writers and directors to ‘tell your story’ that leaves me feeling bereft, not vindicated. The idea that As A Woman I must write about women first and foremost is a special kind of hell. Read more »

golden-age-of-television

Jane Hone

How the Golden Age of Television Brought Us Back Together

I recently heard someone say that it used to be that at 6pm, everyone would sit down to watch The Cosby Show. It seemed at once a quaint and almost sci-fi notion ­– millions of people watching the same show at the same time. How things have changed. Read more »

glitch abc tv

Stephanie Van Schilt

A Glitch in the System: The ABC’s undead gamble

In one gasping breath, Glitch shows that the ABC is stumbling towards something beloved by TV audiences the world over, but that regularly eludes the Australian and film and TV industry: genre. And not just any genre, but the ‘return-from-the-dead’ zombie-style genre. Read more »

family-hour

Anwen Crawford

By Screen Light

Television and depression have a history together. We’re all familiar with the trope: the person who stays in on a Saturday night watching TV in their pyjamas is the sad schlub with no life. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Resized__863

Jane Howard

A Mess of a Brain: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

In some ways it seems like an impossible task to take Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing and translate it to any other art form. How to find a life for a book that is so internal, so unrelenting, in anything other than the pure words of its narrator as they appear on the page? Read more »

Keith - photo Shane Reid

Jane Howard

Local Courage, Global Reach: The National Play Festival

There is something to be gained from observing any collection of works in close proximity, and in these readings you could see the way Australian playwrights are reaching out into the world. Together, these works show the minds of our playwrights in robust health, with works that are itching to find their audience. Read more »

2015GISELLE_Artists of The Australian Ballet. PhotoJeffBusby

Jane Howard

The Beautiful and the Dated: Australian Ballet’s Giselle

The weight of history sits heavily on the Australian Ballet’s Giselle. One of the most enduringly popular ballets from the romantic period, there is much to delight in its presence on stage and its lasting lineage. But 175 years after its debut, in a production that premiered 30 years ago, the sheen of Giselle has been dulled. Read more »