Vienna Conference on Cluster Munitions
Statement by Ursula Plassnik
Austrian Minister for European and International Affairs
Vienna, 5 December 2007
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
[1. A cruel and inhuman weapon]
I warmly welcome you to the Vienna Conference on Cluster Munitions.
Every year, cluster munitions cause unspeakable suffering among civilians in conflict and post-conflict areas around the world. Unexploded bomblets contaminate whole regions for decades after the actual fighting has ceased.
To remind us of the facts:
- Cluster munitions are currently stockpiled in over 70 States and the number of sub-munitions reaches into the billions worldwide.
- In Laos an estimated 80 million bomblets were dropped in the 1960s. Today, some 40 years later, these cluster munitions still cause casualties among the civilian population every year.
- Since 1999, millions of sub-munitions were dropped on Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.
- The use of cluster munitions during the conflict in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 provided a stark reminder that cluster munitions are a problem of today’s world, of our generation, of all of us.
Children are especially at risk. Since the fuses of cluster munitions can be extremely sensitive, they affect even the very young. Few conventional weapons present such a devious humanitarian danger and those that do - like landmines - have been internationally banned.
This morning, just before this opening ceremony, a group of Austrian schoolchildren and NGO representatives presented me with the results of a petition for a ban on cluster munitions. Over the past months, they had collected more than 1.5 million signatures (1.505.815) to send a clear and unequivocal message: Ban these weapons!
[2. A mandate from the international community]
Ladies and Gentlemen,
If I look around this room today, I sense that the international community has heard and understood this message.
It was only a handful of like-minded countries including Austria that called for a negotiating mandate on cluster munitions at the 2006 Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the CCW. In February 2007, 46 States had joined their voices in the Oslo Declaration to call for a legally binding international instrument to ban cluster munitions by 2008. In May, 68 States attended a follow-up conference in Lima.
Today, 133 States are participating at the Vienna Conference on Cluster Munitions. A clear majority of the world now supports our goals. There are more States here in Vienna today than member States of the CCW.
As of today, as of this Conference, we not only have a moral obligation to ban cluster munitions. We also have a strong mandate from the international community!
[3. A new form of multilateral diplomacy in disarmament]
Ladies and Gentlemen,
What we are witnessing is a new form of multilateral diplomacy which involves States, international organizations, parliamentarians, civil society, cluster munitions survivors, the Red Cross, and experts like the mine clearance community.
In close cooperation of these different stakeholders we strive for a common goal that has often been associated with the process leading to the Mine Ban Treaty ten years ago. In terms of close cooperation and direct engagement, the Cluster Munitions Process has surpassed that initiative. I hope it will lead to a similarly positive result.
In the past few years, there have been few success stories in international disarmament and arms control. We have, on the contrary, witnessed a massive increase in defence spending, a series of missile tests and a nuclear weapons test, the modernisation of nuclear arms systems and increasing concerns about nuclear terrorism. Time and again, the international community has failed to agree on disarmament and arms control issues.
This is why I personally asked the question at this year’s United Nations General Assembly: Why have these issues disappeared from the top of the international agenda? This is not tolerable. We have to change it.
[4. Austrian disarmament initiatives]
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Austria has always regarded disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation foreign policy priorities. We have been and continue to be active in different fields:
- One of the greatest problems we are facing now is the lack of confidence in the field of nuclear non-proliferation. We have therefore proposed a gradual multilateralization of the nuclear fuel cycle. As a State that neither wants to sell, nor to buy nuclear fuel, we as Austrians believe that Austria is well placed to propose measures that optimize transparency, safety, confidence and security. We will continue to actively support the work being done by the IAEA and in the NPT-Review Process and with other interested States.
- Another example is our work in the area of small arms and light weapons. We are currently contributing to a project in Ukraine with the goal of destroying some 400.000 weapons and 15.000 tons of munitions. In Albania, Austria supports the destruction of more than 11.000 tons of munitions for small arms. During a recent visit to Burkina Faso I saw first hand the problems that West Africa has to face in coping with an estimated 8 million small arms. We have therefore decided to support three projects in the context of our development cooperation.
[5. Austria’s national and international initiatives]
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In our project to ban cluster munitions, the Austrian Government has pursued a dual track and I believe this is the only way to be credible:
- Nationally, we adopted a moratorium on the use of cluster munitions in February of this year and started work on national legislation.
- Internationally, we teamed up with a group of committed partners - let me mention specifically Ireland, the Holy See, Mexico, New Zeeland, Norway and Peru - to promote an international treaty.
As regards the national track, I am proud to inform you that the Austrian Parliament will adopt tomorrow a national law that bans the possession, use, production, development and transfer of cluster munitions. Once this law is in force, all types of cluster munitions will be illegal, including so called "intelligent" sensor-fused munitions. We hope that this law will become a trend setter and we stand ready to assist other States in their own legislative efforts.
Regarding the international track, this Conference comes at a critical juncture in the international process against these weapons.
Over the next 3 days, I expect an in-depth discussion of the main constituent elements for a legally binding international treaty, in particular:
- victim assistance, which to all of us is one of the humanitarian goals of our endeavours,
- clearance of unexploded ordnance,
- storage and stockpile destruction, and
- cooperation and assistance.
The scope of application of the future treaty and the definition of cluster munitions will be at the core of our discussions. To facilitate our debate, we have produced a "Discussion Text" with our partners which you have all received.
[6. Conclusion: Goals of the Conference]
Ladies and Gentlemen, When we took on the challenge of hosting this conference, I personally set two goals:
- A real mandate from the international community to pursue a legal ban on cluster munitions; and
- A clear common understanding of all the elements of the future international treaty.
Already now, the remarkable number of States participating in this Conference demonstrates that a majority of the world’s States - a two thirds majority - is demanding the conclusion of a treaty banning cluster munitions by 2008. This gives us a clear mandate.
Achieving the second goal will require the joint efforts of all of us. Over the past few months, an impressive global alliance against cluster munitions has formed. Now this alliance needs to live up to expectations and to its responsibility.
I wish all of us the necessary commitment and the necessary perseverance to achieve this goal. And I am confident.