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United States Intervention on Technical Improvements
July 15, 2008

United States Intervention on Technical Improvements
Group of Governmental Experts to Conventional Weapons Convention (CCW – GGE)

Statement delivered by Stephen Mathias
Head of the U.S. Delegation

Thank you Mr. Chairman.  Many of us have noted that the issue of technical improvements to cluster munitions is particularly difficult given the divergent views among delegations on this topic.  However, we also believe that it is an area that must be addressed in some fashion for these negotiations to be successful.

Mr. Chairman, at the outset, I would like to express our thanks to you for all of your efforts to prepare the groundwork for our discussion this afternoon, and in particular, for the paper you have prepared entitled “Possible elements to be included in a text serving as the basis for negotiations on Article 2, 4, 5, and 6.”  We believe this paper will be extremely useful in advancing these negotiations and we find it to be an excellent basis for further discussions.

I would like to start by saying a few words about our recently released policy on cluster munitions, with the hope that it will in some measure advance these discussions.  By now I hope that all of you have had a chance to review our new DoD policy on cluster munitions. Since this is the first opportunity in plenary to address this topic, I would like to elaborate a bit more on our policy and to explain the means by which the United States seeks to minimize the humanitarian impact these munitions can have.

First, our policy continues to recognize that cluster munitions are legitimate weapons that provide a unique military capability and that we will continue to rely upon this military capability for our armed forces in the future.

Second, our policy recognizes that by taking advantage of technology, we can continue to maintain, produce, stockpile, and when required, use cluster munitions, but do so in a manner that significantly reduces the humanitarian impact these munitions may have.  Balancing two very important objectives – protection of our national security and the reduction of humanitarian impact — was not a decision that we took lightly.  It will also require significant expense.

Let me provide some greater detail on our policy:

  • The policy requires a 1% unexploded ordnance (“UXO”) rate.  This percentage is not 1% in testing, but requires a 1% UXO rate for actual use during combat operations, across the range of intended operational environments in which we intend to use that weapon.  The policy does not dictate the technical means to achieve this result, but leaves this determination up to the different components of our armed forces.
  • Let me emphasize the significance of this new policy. While there will not be a one-for-one replacement of existing stocks by 2018, the policy will result in almost a complete turnover of the existing cluster munition stockpile.
  • The policy provides for a 10 year transition period to achieve this 1% standard.  10 years is necessary to develop the new technology, get it into production, and to substitute, improve, or replace our existing stocks.
  • During this 10 year transition period, our forces will still maintain the ability to use existing stocks of cluster munitions—stocks that currently maintain a high reliability rate, but may not meet our new standard.  To account for this possible use during the next 10 years, the policy has placed the approval authority for the use of these cluster munitions with the Combatant Commander, who is a 4-star General or Admiral.  After 2018, any cluster munitions with a UXO rate higher than 1% will not be available for use by our forces.
  • During the 10 year transition period, we will not transfer any of our existing stocks to other countries unless they agree not to use these munitions after 2018.  Some press accounts have read our policy as an attempt to “dump” our old stocks on the open market as we upgrade to stocks that meet a 1% UXO rate.  This is inaccurate; we are not seeking to “dump” our old stocks for use by others.  We take end-use agreements such as those contemplated in the policy very seriously.  As our current stocks are replaced with new ones that meet our new standard, we will remove the existing stocks from the active inventory and over time destroy them, not transfer them to other countries.
  • In regards to our current stocks of cluster munitions, our military departments and combatant commands have been directed to identify those cluster munitions in our current stocks for which there is no longer an operational requirement or for which the numbers are greater that the operational requirements.  We will remove those stocks from the active inventory, place them in inactive storage facilities, and begin the destruction of these munitions as time and funding permits.

As I said previously, the reason we have taken the time to explain this new policy is that we hope it will be useful in advancing our debate on technical improvements.  In summary, we think that an approach that focuses on reducing the UXO rate of cluster munitions could be especially helpful in this forum in directly addressing one of the most pressing humanitarian concerns that has been expressed about cluster munitions.

That said, the approach taken in our policy is, of course, not the only available way to tackle the problem of UXO rates.  In this context, we would like to reiterate our thanks to you, Mr. Chairman, for the excellent paper you have prepared offering possible elements to be included on technical improvements in the text of our new Protocol.

We think that the general approach you have presented is exactly right for beginning to bring all parties together on an issue where delegations have widely differing views.  We should focus on technical improvements as a reasonable compromise between those states seeking broad prohibitions and those seeking only technical best practices.  We believe that your approach, Mr. Chairman, is a good one – to set aside for now the issue of which elements are to be binding and which are not, and instead to focus on discussing, refining, and agreeing on the substance of the elements.  Once we have agreement on the substance of the elements, we can address which of the elements should be legally binding.  Our own view is that some of these elements ultimately should be legally binding, but that is a discussion for later.

With that, I would like to offer a few comments on particular elements, while abiding by your request not to go into great drafting detail at this initial stage.

  • Paragraph 4:  We have two points on this paragraph.  First, to clarify, we understand this to apply to new weapons, not existing stocks.  Second, this paragraph, as well as paragraph 6, uses the term “every condition of use.”  We think that a better term would be one that focuses on the intended operational environments for the particular weapon, since we presumably do not intend to require weapons to meet any specific standard in a context in which they were not designed for use.
  • Paragraph 5:  We believe that it may be useful to address the issue of excess stocks, but this is a separate point from the idea of having weapons that meet a certain UXO standard after arming, which we do not believe is relevant here (and in any event is contained elsewhere in this document).  It is also worth highlighting that states must make their own judgments about what stocks would constitute “excess.”
  • Paragraph 9:  We believe that an element addressing the use of self-deactivation mechanisms and self-neutralization mechanisms should be included in this paper and merits serious consideration.  However, we do think these concepts should be included on their own terms (perhaps by encouraging their use), and not referred to solely in the context of whether they count against UXO rates.
  • Paragraph 10:  As drafted, we believe this element will require a transition period.  Overall we support the concept of prohibiting transfers to non-state parties and those states that would not agree to apply the requirements of the protocol. There may also be alternative approaches that would not require a transition period, and we are open to discussing those.  For example, language similar to the amended mines protocol on transfers may be worth exploring.
  • Paragraph 11:  Similar to paragraph 10, we believe this element will require a transition period.  Consistent with the approach taken in paragraph 6, after an appropriate transition period, munitions that do not meet the standard would no longer be eligible for transfer.

We look forward to hearing other delegations’ ideas on this.  As we flesh out these elements together, we should keep in mind the possibility of including as many elements as possible, with some of them included in the alternative to leave countries as much flexibility as possible to address the issue as appropriate in their various national systems.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to offer my delegation’s preliminary views on this paper.  Let me just reiterate that we wholeheartedly agree that this is a good basis for discussion even if we – like other delegations – will have a number of specific comments on these elements.

Thank you.