In February, 46 states joined a declaration at the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions calling for a ban on cluster bombs by 2008. A second conference was attended by 68 states last week in Lima. Although participating states were divided over treaty details for banning the weapons, they were united by concern about the danger they pose to noncombatants. A third meeting will be held in Vienna in December.

The movement by many governments and nongovernmental organizations to ban cluster bombs outside the United Nations framework is gaining momentum. But Japan, which attended the Oslo and Lima conferences, is not enthusiastic, saying the weapons are needed for self-defense in the event of an invasion. This excuse is not convincing. It should be remembered that strong domestic opposition once existed to banning antipersonnel mines, yet Japan became a signatory to the 1997 convention outlawing such weapons and is now actively involved in their removal abroad. Japan should similarly work to outlaw cluster bombs, which are considered much more inhumane than mines.

According to Handicap International, an international nongovernmental organization, 440 million submunitions have been dropped since 1965, and up to 132 million of these bomblets remain unexploded. There have been 5,475 confirmed deaths in the 24 countries that the study focused on — including 2,531 in Laos, 1,381 in Iraq and 610 in Vietnam — and 7,246 people have been injured by cluster bombs. The group notes that 98 percent of recorded cluster-bomb casualties are civilians, and that these casualties occur while people are carrying out their daily activities.

The United States, Russia, China and Israel did not attend either the Oslo or Lima conference. Some say that if states in possession of a large number of cluster-bomb munitions do not join the proposed treaty, it will be ineffective. But if a large number of states sign the treaty and efforts are made to inform the public worldwide of the deadly nature of cluster bombs, it could serve as a strong deterrent against this indiscriminate weapon.

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