Why imposing a moratorium is not good enough?

1 Dec

According to the Straits Times, ‘No to cluster bomb pact’, the Singapore government has imposed a moratorium on exporting cluster bombs though it will not sign the treaty that will see 100 countries banning ‘the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions’.

In the statement by the ministries of foreign affairs and defense: ‘Singapore remains committed to the responsible use of cluster munitions for self-defence and will continue to work with members of the international community to find a comprehensive solution to the humanitarian problems caused by its irresponsible and indiscriminate use’.

While the government has publicly announced the decision to stop the export of cluster munitions, many questions are still left unanswered.

The dire ones are retrospectively related to the parties or states which the Singapore government has previously exported its cluster bombs. Knowing to whom these bombs were sold will help create accountability for past atrocities committed. If some of these unused munitions could then be traced to these importers, action or pressure can be taken to influence or prevent them from being used in the future against innocent civilians.

In addition, the Singapore government also needs to define what it means by ‘responsible use’ and ‘legitimate self-defense’ in its press statement. Since these munitions are beyond the control of the Singapore government once they are transferred to third parties, it cannot in any possible way impose any strict controls on how they are being used. Therefore there is no way to monitor ‘irresponsible use’. Moreover, it is an oxymoron to claim that cluster munitions can be used for legitimate self-defense given their impact has always been most heavily felt by  innocent civilians.

More importantly, even if the Singapore government has decided to impose a moratorium on cluster munitions, this does not mean that they will not ‘secretly’ export them. After all, they do not have the pact to hold them accountable. It can always fall back on the excuse of ‘legitimate self-defense’ when it decides to do so. While it is true that states that have signed the treaty may wantonly violate the ban, not being a signatory only gives the Singapore government more leeway to do otherwise.

It is time the Singapore government stops half-hearted measures such as imposing a moratorium, which can always be invoked at the slightest excuse. Unlike what it has claimed, there is no humanitarian nor responsible manner to deal with the issues on the proliferation and use of cluster bombs. Nothing short of imposing a comprehensive global blanket ban.

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