Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

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




loitering-cover-cmyk-570

Sam van Zweden

The Writer at the Centre of the Essay: Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering

Loitering is Charles D’Ambrosio’s quietly brave collection of experimental essays. It doesn’t announce itself noisily, but associations slide sideways through the essays in unexpected ways. This collection is lyric in both senses – freely associative and loose, it borrows from the world, trying meaning on for size, producing metaphors and connections wherever it sees fit. Read more »

discworld

Elizabeth Flux

Footnote to a life: How Terry Pratchett kept me from going postal

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then teenage me would have been the steamroller to Terry Pratchett’s somewhat plagiarised tarmac. In the ten years since I first picked up The Fifth Elephant, my work has been littered with Pratchettisms to varying degrees. Read more »

Patricia-Highsmith2

James Tierney

The Necessary Paradoxes of Patricia Highsmith

A highly regarded author of complex psychological thrillers, including The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith’s fiction comes freighted with a heady mix of cross-purposes and intimate alienations. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

9807778273_afe6ec792d_z

Rebecca Shaw

Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling

We are still at a point where far less than half the movies we see have a clear female protagonist, even though women are half of the population. If women as an ENTITY are not properly represented, their stories not told, what chance then do women of colour have? Read more »

article-2301242-18FA52E4000005DC-314_470x763

Rebecca Shaw

An Inconvenient Truth: Social stigma and menstruation

If you have heard of menstruation, you would know that it is an essential process in a little tiny thing called the EXISTENCE AND CONTINUATION OF HUMAN LIFE, and it is something that most (not all) women experience for about five days every month for a large part of their lives. It is a topic (besides shopping, lol) that women think about frequently. Read more »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

9331818982_322b389ff2_z

Annabel Brady-Brown

The blue pill or the red pill? In defence of highbrow film

Cinema is a powerful medium. Going to the movies, be it a Lav Diaz epic or a Michael Bay blockbuster, is an act of submission. You hand over $15 and the whole mash of your brain/senses/heart/dreams for ninety minutes. Read more »

girlwalkshomealoneatnight

Anwen Crawford

Bad Cities

A Most Violent Year has an atmosphere of all-pervading dread, like a film noir, as if the polluted air of New York itself was causing people to act against their better intentions. Even more haunting and more noir is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a memorably audacious debut feature from American-Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

agent-carter-7683

Danielle Binks

Agent Carter and the future of the female superhero

Agent Carter has been described ‘a Triumph for Women, Marvel and TV,’ and heralded as an important new chapter in comics culture. If this supposedly groundbreaking new show fails, does it spell doom for the future of female-led superhero franchises? Read more »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

cher_horowitz_closet-010_2

Katie Williams

Fashion Forward: How hidden algorithms are dressing up technology

Though we increasingly rely on technology to simplify our lives, we still want to believe that behind the scenes is a happy, human face, rather than an impassive machine that does the dirty work for us. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »

Tessa Waters stars in Womanz

Jane Howard

Fringe Feminism: Women, comedy and performance art

Taken together, the work of these female comics and performers loudly proclaims that their ideas about gender, femininity, performance and comedy are not diametrically opposed. It is because of their performance backgrounds that their shows are hilarious, not in spite of them. Read more »

Before Us_3

Jane Howard

Stuart Bowden’s Unfamiliar, Universal Worlds

It’s hard to classify the work of Stuart Bowden. His one-person storytelling theatre works are at once hilarious and melancholy. They exist in a particular space of fringe theatre: intricately crafted stories built for small rooms & small audiences, they lift and rise that audience, gathering us all up in the magic of stories & the closeness they can breed. Read more »