Good news from Belgium. After forty-six nations--including Britain, Canada, and Germany--met in Oslo in February and agreed to work towards a global ban on cluster bombs over the next year, Belgium became the first nation to make investing in companies that produce the weapons a crime.
Under the new Belgian law, the government would publish a list of manufacturers and "prohibit banks from offering credit to cluster bomb makers and from owning shares or bonds in these companies."
Cluster bombs are spread over vast areas and many unexploded "bomblets" lie dormant for years. (The UN estimates that as many as 40 percent of 4 million bomblets dropped by Israel in Lebanon failed to explode on impact, and the weapons have recently been used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo as well). Civilians--especially children who are attracted to "their small size and bright colors"--are often the people who detonate them. An estimated 60 percent of the victims in Southeast Asia are children. According to organizers, the Oslo conference was spearheaded in order to "avoid a potential humanitarian disaster posed by unexploded cluster munitions." The 46 participating nations approved a declaration to "conclude by 2008 a legally binding international instrument [to] prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians."
The United States was noticeably absent from the Oslo conference (as were China and Russia). This is not surprising, since the Bush Administration continues to move towards a renewed arms race. At this critical moment when we are pushing Iraq and North Korea to abandon any ambitions to become a nuclear power, the Bush Administration is attempting to build "the first new nuclear warhead produced by the United States in more than 20 years." (This after the Administration's effort to build a nuclear "bunker buster" weapon was thwarted by the normally "see no evil hear no evil" Republican Congress).
Fortunately, there is opposition to the latest chapter in the Bush Administration's "what else can we do to piss off the world?" approach to...well, everything. Senator Dianne Feinstein told Walter Pincus of the Washington Post that she is "100 percent opposed" to the new weapon--the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). But the netroots' not-so-favorite Democrat, Representative Ellen Tauscher, said that she is "encouraged" by the new nuclear plan--perhaps because Livermore National Laboratory was selected to design the weapon and it's located in her district.
This is a perfect moment for readers of this column to send a letter to Tauscher (2459 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515; or by e-mail if a resident of her district), letting her know that the world doesn't need another nuclear weapon. In fact, if she wants to do a great service she might not only work against this new nuke but get the United States on board with 46 other nations to ban the cluster bomb too.