Nothing smart about Rudd cluster bomb intransigence


Land mines warning sign Women are odd creatures, a mass of contradictions. We love peace, harmony and order, yet let anyone threaten our children, and we are immediately transformed into raving and violent maniacs of the most primitive kind.

We are not merely concerned about our own offspring, either, for most of us cannot bear to think of children suffering in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, China and Burma.

What do you do when your own child grows up and wants to become a soldier? You try to talk him out of the idea, that's what, and when you fail, you try not to think about the whole nasty business.

Nik, my middle son, is a commando in the Greek Special Forces, and in 1997 he was part of a UN contingent stationed in Bosnia. On his return he showed me his snapshots. What do the red flags mean? I asked. They show you where you shouldn't walk, he said. Land mines. The day before he left Bosnia, a sapper had been blown up.

Land mines have killed or maimed at least a million people since 1975, and some of the monsters are still a danger in the Golan Heights, 40 years after they were first planted there.

Land mines then; cluster bombs now. These are bombs that have mini-bombs inside them. They thus carry much the same threat as land mines, in that they lie around undetonated for long periods. When they explode, innocent civilians, children among them, are all too often the victims.

Expatriates view their homelands through rose-coloured spectacles, but mine cracked when I learned the Howard Government had spent $14 million on these iniquitous weapons, the first time an Australian government had ever done so.

Those same glasses shattered entirely when I learned the Rudd Labor Government had not done the right thing either, standing in the way of initiatives at this week's Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions.

More than a hundred countries sent representatives to Dublin, in the hope of drafting a treaty banning the use and stockpiling of cluster bombs. The Pope, Desmond Tutu, the International Red Cross, UNICEF and World Vision were a few of the spiritual leaders and aid organisations calling for the ban.

America, China, Russia, Israel, Egypt, India and Pakistan had no representation at the conference. America, notoriously, has used cluster bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Nonetheless, it was announced yesterday that the conference had agreed upon a a draft treaty to ban the bombs. This was a success for humanitarian activists everywhere, but for the exclusion of one small detail.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported this week that Australia was frustrating attempts by the Dublin conference to ban cluster bombs, by trying to ensure its SMArt Bomb 155 would be excluded from the treaty.

This weapon is an artillery round designed to sense and attack armoured vehicles. It has, according to Australian defence authorities, 'reliable' self-destruction mechanisms. But it has never been used on a battlefield.

What if, God forbid, it is one day, and is found to be just as viciously effective in sowing bomblets as any other cluster device? Too late then.

Despite the risks, Australia's arguments must have been persuasive. The smart bomb was excluded from the Dublin treaty.

In 1999, Australia was among the first of 158 countries to ratify the Ottawa Treaty banning land mines. Back then we were the goodies. Now we are the baddies. Why? For fear of wasting $14 million? Because the Wide Brown Land's defences have to be kept up to date? Or because some politicians simply lack the empathy to imagine the effect of such weapons?

Nik is good at his job, and rising through the ranks. I still don't like the thought of having a son in the military, but at least he is a commando — if he were ever in combat, the risk he personally would pose to civilians would be small. He is not, obviously, a bomber pilot. Nor is he a politician.

Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer based in Greece for 27 years. She has had eight books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances. She has also worked as a journalist since 1980 and has been published in five countries.

Topic tags: gillian bouras, cluster bombs, Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions, smart bombs, land mine



submit a comment

Existing comments

Thank you Gillian - I agree absolutely and I am concerned that there is a report that Australia has retained one type of cluster bomb - why and what is it. I have enjoyed all your books and they are still all on my shelf.
margaret o'reilly | 30 May 2008

Perhaps if the leaders of Australia thought for one moment that such bombs could be used here, to remain a threat to innocent people for many years to come, they would come to a quite different conclusion as to whether or not they should be banned. At present Australia has never been under threat of such a battle that cluster bombs would be considered as a weapon, and presumably the powers that be have decided such a thing will never happen. Easy to make decisions affecting other people's countries.
Coral Petkovich | 30 May 2008

Thank you Gillian. I shall now look out for your books.
Anna McCormack | 31 May 2008

It is wonderful to read such articles on these destructive devices. Please ensure a copy is given to Mr Rudd to read and act upon. We supported Mr Rudd's campaign and were impressed with his initial actions as PM. However his government's action on this issue and the inaction on immediately pushing for the development of renewable energy alternatives as power sources and as a basis for public transport is very disappointing. The bickering over reducing the cost of petroleum based fuel by a few cents is both ludicrous and time wasting. Please keep writing your wonderful articles Gillian.
Mary O 'Byrne | 31 May 2008

I was saddened to read about Australia's purchase of cluster bombs until I read that the cluster bombs bought by us are anti-tank and do not have an anti-personnel effect. They have two self-destruct fuses and if these fail the fusing system runs out of electric charge in 30 minutes. As my informant said it is not ideal that we bought these but they are not destructive of human life in the same way as the cluster bombs widely used.
Mary Shanahan | 04 June 2008

a provoking opinion piece gillian - the first chink in rudd's armour sadly.

i am sure many of us had [secretly] hoped he would perhaps be the thinking person's PM with - finally - some sort of social justice agenda to speak of.

sadly he is just another politician. maybe the 'tin-tin' comparison is now more apt than ever given herges own 'fall-line' politics?
Nick Ramage | 13 June 2008


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up