In addition to pushing for a complete ban on the production, storing and use of cluster bombs, this Spring the US wing of the North American peace church development agency Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) will be advocating for US legislation to limit the use of cluster bombs.
A bill that has been introduced into the US Senate with the backing oif a huge range of church and peace groups would ban the use of cluster munitions in or near civilian-populated areas and the use, sale and transfer of cluster munitions with a failure rate of more than 1 per cent.
For three decades, MCC has worked with others to speak out about the dangers of unexploded cluster bombs, which can remain live in the ground for decades after a war ends.
Earlier in 2007, at an international gathering in Norway, 46 countries agreed to negotiate a ban on cluster bombs by the end of 2008. Although the Canadian government was represented, the United States, one of the primary users of cluster bombs, was not.
The agreement is a "very significant" step along the long journey of working against the use of cluster bombs, said Titus Peachey, director of the MCC US Peace Education Office. Peachey, who was present at the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions, has been active in MCC's work in advocating against the use of cluster bombs since the early 1980s.
While the agreement is tentative and details still need to be worked out, Peachey noted that the interest and commitment of major European countries and Canada to addressing cluster munitions was a welcome change. He recalled a decade ago, as work was in full swing on a land mine ban, cluster bombs were hardly mentioned. The February agreement was almost unimaginable.
"It was just really great to see that shift and willingness on the parts of governments and nongovernmental organizations to focus on the cluster bomb problem," Peachey said.
When cluster bombs, explosives carried in larger canisters or shells, fail to explode on impact, they can remain deadly for years after a war or conflict has ended. In villages in Laos, people continue to be injured and die today from cluster bombs dropped by the US in the 1960s and 1970s.
Peachey said that Israel's use of cluster bombs in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 outraged many in the international community and helped galvanize support for a ban.
Estimates by deminers on the scene suggest that Israel may have fired up to 4 million cluster bomblets into Lebanon. Mennonite Central Committee has helped spread the word about the dangers of cluster bombs by helping to fund banners that hang along highways throughout southern Lebanon. Yet MCC workers in Lebanon say that farmers still face a difficult dilemma — ignore the risks of cluster bombs or see their families go hungry. De-mining programmes, experts and technicians are stretched thin, and farmers can't wait.
Peachey said if a ban does become a reality, it could mean that billions of cluster bombs stockpiled in some 70 countries will not be used.
For years, Peachey said, advocates called on the Convention on Conventional Weapons to place a moratorium on cluster bomb use. The body, which includes the US and Israel, could never reach consensus. The Norwegian government then took steps to organize this conference in February 2007.
Forty-six of the 49 governments involved in the conference joined the agreement on a ban, and since then Cambodia has joined into it as well. "We assume many more countries will join," Peachey said.
Stressing that the deal was still tentative, Peachey said a ban could affect how many the United States uses, even if the US never signs on.
He concluded: "Cluster bombs may become so stigmatized the US may decide not to use them," Peachey said. "That's what happened with land mines. The US never signed on to the land mine ban. But in the last 10 years the US. hasn't used new land mines."
With thanks to Marla Pierson Lester of MCC Communications, who contributed most of this article.