International efforts to ban cluster bombs fell apart late last week. If you were reading about this in the New York Times, you might have been led to believe that the United States was pushing to get rid of the weapons–instead of the opposite.
Here’s the lead sentence from a story in Saturday’s paper (11/26/11):
GENEVA — Despite last-minute attempts to broker a compromise, American-led efforts to conclude an international treaty restricting use of cluster munitions collapsed on Friday in the face of opposition from countries that said it did not address their humanitarian concerns and would undermine existing international law.
This “American-led effort,” readers were told, “reflected the increasing stigmatization of a weapon recognized as causing unacceptable harm to civilians and seen as having lasting effects on development for decades after conflicts have ended.”
Well, who opposes such efforts? It takes a little while to understand that the other side is taking a much tougher stance to eliminate cluster bombs, as outlined at an Oslo conference in 2008:
But countries and disarmament groups opposing the draft treaty said the humanitarian impact of the proposed protocol would be minimal and would legitimize continued use of other cluster munitions that are recognized to cause unacceptable harm.
These countries, together with the International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations agencies dealing with development and human rights, also argued that the adoption of a legal instrument that was weaker than the Oslo agreement would set a dangerous precedent.
The Times‘ confused account is in stark contrast to other reporting. This Reuters piece, for example, does a much better job of explaining things in its lead:
GENEVA (Reuters) — A U.S.-led push to regulate, rather than ban, cluster munitions failed Friday after 50 countries objected, following humanitarian campaigners’ claims that anything less than a outright ban would be an unprecedented reversal of human rights law.
Something tells me the Times story would look a little differently if the United States weren’t on the pro-cluster bomb side of this argument.