As I explored at length on Al Jazeera in August, a series of WikiLeaks cables relating to cluster munitions demonstrate how Australia actively sought to water down treaty text in the international Cluster Munitions Convention (CMC) relating to ‘military interoperability’ – that is, the ability for foreign militaries to conduct joint operations.

Specifically, I alleged that:

“… at least 2006, Australia had – under the previous Labour government – worked behind the scenes with the governments of Britain, Canada and Japan, as well as with certain Asian and African states, to ensure that the final text of the international convention banning cluster munitions would not preclude Australian forces jointly operating alongside states who are not party to the treaty, and who are therefore permitted to deploy cluster bombs. In essence, Australia took a pro-active public role in promoting the humanitarian need for a treaty banning cluster munitions in all their respects, and quietly went about undermining what was actually precluded by the convention”.

Interestingly, the cables also indicate that Australia sought to balance the normative ambitions of the CMC with the far less ambitious humanitarian objectives of the concurrent negotiations in the UN-based Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), favoured by a number of states including the US, Russia, and China.

Below is an inventory of much of the evidence for these claims, as well as what I consider the core section of text taken from each cable for easy reference.

US Embassy Canberra, Australia, 18 December 2007:

“Dr. Ada Cheung of the Arms Control and Counter-Proliferation Branch in DFAT’s International Security Division. Australia remains in agreement with the USG position on cluster munitions, particularly on the need for interoperability. Dr. Cheung described the efforts of the moderate group of 20 like-minded countries and NGOs (“20 Group”), including Australia, that is rebuffing attempts to force through unacceptable treaty language”.

“Dr. Cheung reiterated three redline items for Australia in the Oslo Discussions, including the need for defense forces to be interoperable… She advised that FM Stephen Smith has accepted and agreed to these positions and that the new MOD, Joel Fitzgibbon, has been similarly briefed”

“Dr. Cheung questioned the effectiveness of a cluster munitions agreement that did not include Australia or the U.K. and advised that Australia is prepared to withdraw from the Oslo Discussions if any of their redlines are crossed”.

US Embassy Canberra, Australia, 4 Feb 2008:

“Dr. Ada Cheung, Executive Director, Arms Control and Counter-Proliferation Branch, suggested separately that Australia will withdraw after Wellington if the core group successfully changes the declaration language to ban all cluster munitions.”

US Embassy Berlin, Germany, 13 Feb 2008:

“[German conventional arms control desk officer] was well aware of the interoperability issue, referring to an Australian paper that outlines a variety of scenarios where the current draft text could cause problems.”

US Embassy Canberra, Australia, 13 Feb 2008:

“[Australia’s Acting Director for Nonproliferation and Arms Control] noted that if hard-line participants insist at Wellington on a total munitions ban “we may not make it to Dublin.”

US Embassy Rome, Italy, 14 Feb 2008:

“[Acting Director for Nonproliferation and Arms Control] said that Italy would support Australia’s efforts to come up with a compromise text that preserves interoperability, but could not play a leading role in the debate because of domestic political pressure to do something about cluster munitions”.

US Embassy Canberra, Australia, 25 February 2008:

“[Foreign Minister] Smith expressed appreciation for U.S. cooperation on MANPADS, and [the US’ Acting Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Stephen] Mull expressed appreciation for Australia’s attempts to “introduce realism” into the Oslo Process on cluster munitions. Mull requested continued Australian assistance in working to move the issue back to the CCW”.

US Embassy Canberra, Australia, 27 Feb 2008:

“Australia would welcome U.S. assistance in identifying African countries with potential interoperability issues who can be recruited to vote with the Like-minded and in reviewing the proposed interoperability text”.

“[Acting Director for Nonproliferation and Arms Control] Dr. Cheung indicated that the GOA is identifying potential supporters in the region who are not already members of the Like-minded Group. She specifically identified Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines with potential interoperability issues and requested U.S. assistance in identifying comparable Africom countries. Dr. Cheung observed that many of the African countries have been present but do not actively participate in the process and probably do not understand the implication of the Convention on their activities such as peacekeeping. Once they are identified, the GOA and other like-minded countries intend to reach out to these countries with information and education on the issues.”

“Pressure from the Core Group resulted in the withdrawal from Australia’s delegation of their two NGO participants as they were unable to reconcile position of the Core Group with the GOA’s positions on interoperability and munition definitions. Dr. Cheung shared that at one point during the meeting a rumor was circulated, allegedly by the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC), that future mine clearing assistance activities would be discontinued in countries that voted against the Like-minded Group.”

US Embassy Canberra, Australia, 30 April 2008:

“According to Dr. Cheung [Acting Director for Nonproliferation and Arms Control], the U.S. Embassy approached the Australian Embassy in Berlin on April 25 (ANZAC Day, a holiday) seeking its assistance in demarching the German government on this issue.”

US Embassy Wellington, New Zealand, 3 May 2008:

“The Australian High Commission has told us that they have little confidence in the reassurances from MFAT and MOD interlocutors; they say the Australian Minister of Defense may call his New Zealand counterpart (Phil Goff) during the Dublin meetings. However, Goff is dual-hatted as both Minister of Defense and Minister for Disarmament — and although he has flagged interoperability as a concern — his disarmament leanings may ultimately override practical military considerations”.

US Embassy Canberra, Australia, 7 July 2008:

“[Acting Director for Nonproliferation and Arms Control] Dr. Cheung also provided several interoperability scenarios under legal review with respect to Article 21 ofthe Oslo Process Convention on Cluster Munitions. The GOA continues to work with other like-minded countries such as Japan, Canada, and the UK on this review, and plan a full briefing to their Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers by August 31, 2008”

US Embassy Canberra, Australia, 11 July 2008:

“Australian officials welcomed the U.S. DOD’s new cluster munitions policy”

US Embassy Canberra, Australia, 26 November 2008:

“Australian representatives informed U.S. counterparts that Australia will take a broad view of the activities permitted because of Article 21 of the CCM.”

“In bilateral consultations on the margins of the CCW meetings September 1-5, Australian counterparts briefed the U.S. delegation on Australia,s legal interpretation of Article 21. Although a written copy of the legal advice could not be provided, the briefer noted that most forms of military cooperation could continue. The official interpretation concerning interoperability/combined operations is that the only prohibited action would be for embedded or third-party force Australian personnel to physically fire or drop cluster munitions. This would be applicable to a limited number of Australian officers serving with U.S. units. Another action identified that is not legally prohibited, but politically difficult, would be for Australian officers serving in a combined headquarters and who were part of the chain of command, for example if the officer is in charge of targeting. These latter two issues may require further discussion and would be best worked in mil-mil channels because they relate directly to operations.”

US Embassy Canberra, Australia, 18 December 2008:

“[Director, Arms Control andCounter-Proliferation Branch] McGuire indicated that once the treaty has been ratified, DFAT recommends that all implementation discussions be conducted Mil to Mil.”

US Embassy Canberra, Australia, 28 January 2009:

“[Director, Arms Control andCounter-Proliferation Branch] McGuire also advised that the Japanese have consulted with Australia and other countries on what criminal penalties will be adopted, including incarceration and financial penalties. He noted with interest that the Japanese are proposing to use contract employees to move cluster munitions around on U.S. bases in Japan to avoid contravening the Convention’s handling prohibitions”.

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