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The French Republic signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo on 3 December 2008. At a special event on the convention held at the UN in New York in March 2009, France said that the ratification process had begun, and that early entry into force of the convention is a high priority for the government.[1] France is also drafting a national implementation law, which will be presented to the Parliament after the ratification law.[2]

France is party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) and ratified Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) on 31 October 2006.

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

French policy on cluster munitions has evolved remarkably.[3] France stated in November 2005 that it “considers that submunition weapons today remain indispensable from a military point of view.”[4] France maintained that it had developed a national approach to the use of cluster munitions based on “strict implementation of IHL [international humanitarian law], well adapted national concepts of use, and improvement of the reliability of all munitions, during their entire lifespan, in order to prevent them from becoming ERW.”[5]

In December 2006, the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense of the Senate adopted a report on French policy on cluster munitions that was strongly criticized by NGOs for containing weak recommendations and for presenting the French government as exemplary on the issue. The report did, however, acknowledge that cluster munitions pose more serious threats to civilian populations than other weapons, and called for the government to be more active internationally.[6]

France was not initially supportive of the Oslo Process, as it believed cluster munitions should only be dealt with in the context of the CCW. Even within the CCW, France was not among the group of 25 States Parties that endorsed a formal declaration in November 2006 calling for an international agreement prohibiting cluster munitions that “pose serious humanitarian hazards.”[7]

While participating in the Oslo Process from the beginning, France was among a group of states that prioritized the CCW, and that pushed for exceptions for certain types of cluster munitions and for a transition period before prohibitions went into effect. It participated in all four of the Oslo Process international diplomatic conferences in Oslo, Lima, Vienna, and Wellington, as well as the formal negotiations in Dublin in May 2008, and the regional conferences in Brussels (October 2007), Sofia (September 2008), and Lao PDR (October 2008).

France was not initially invited to the Oslo conference in February 2007 because of its lack of prior support for a prohibition. However, it did attend and endorsed the Oslo Declaration, though with obvious reluctance. At the start of the conference, France stated that the CCW was the “most relevant forum” to tackle the problem of cluster munitions, arguing that it was the only way to have the users, producers and exporters on board.[8] France’s support for the Oslo Declaration was contingent upon the recognition of work in the CCW.[9] During the Oslo conference, France called for the restriction of use and transfer of cluster munitions on a national basis, in line with French policy.[10]

During the Lima conference in May 2007, France began calling for exclusions for cluster munitions with 10 or less submunitions, or with self-destruct or self-neutralization mechanisms.[11] In addition, France called for a transition period, and raised the issue of “interoperability” (joint military operations with states not party to the new convention).[12] France also raised concerns related to stockpile destruction, stating that too ambitious deadlines “will play an important role in deterrence to the States that would have liked to be here and participate in universalization.”[13]

Meanwhile, in July 2007, the Axa Group, a French insurance company, announced it was withdrawing assets invested in companies involved in the production of cluster munitions. Axa was quoted as stating, “While no international convention banning cluster bombs is yet in place, the Axa Group acknowledges that there is an emerging international consensus around the banishment of certain types of cluster bombs.”[14]

In September 2007, Deputy Armand Jung proposed a law in the National Assembly to eliminate cluster munitions.[15] Later, Deputy André Gerin and other deputies also proposed a law calling for a ban on cluster munitions.[16]

At the Vienna conference in December 2007, France prioritized the issue of definitions, asserting that it was essential to make a distinction between weapons that would be the object of an immediate ban and those that should be the object of a transition phase of 10 years. France called for distinctions to be made according to accuracy and reliability criteria and said that cluster munitions with less than 10 submunitions should not be included in the ban.[17]

During the Wellington conference in February 2008, France was part of the so-called like-minded group that circulated or supported proposals on exceptions to the prohibition, transition periods and interoperability that the CMC criticized as weakening the treaty text. [18] France also strongly opposed provisions in the draft treaty text assigning special responsibilities for past users of cluster munitions on the grounds that there should be no retroactive obligations in the treaty.[19] In addition, France, along with the United Kingdom, proposed lengthening the stockpile destruction deadline from six to 10 years.[20] France also suggested that the number of ratifications necessary before entry into force should be increased from 20 to 60.[21] At the conclusion of the Wellington conference, France, on behalf of the like-minded group, made a statement declaring dissatisfaction with the conference as it felt different opinions and views had not been taken into account in a balanced way.[22]

During the Dublin negotiations, on 23 May 2008, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defense released a statement announcing that “to contribute to the momentum engaged and even before knowing the treaty’s definitive text,” France had decided to immediately withdraw its M26 rockets from its operational service. According to the statement, at that time, these accounted for over 90% of France’s cluster munition stocks. France stated this was a “major gesture demonstrating [France’s] armed forces’ responsible attitude.”[23] This announcement signalled a significant shift in France’s position toward the treaty text, particularly in terms of no longer calling for broad exceptions to the prohibition or for a transition period. This in turn appeared to have an impact on the position of others in the like-minded group.

However, France continued to push for a provision on interoperability that the CMC strongly opposed. It also played a key role in increasing the stockpile destruction deadline from six to eight years, in raising the number of ratifications to trigger entry into force from 20 to 30, in weakening the retroactivity provision, and in the provision allowing for retention of cluster munitions for training and research purposes.

Two French weapons with submunitions were not captured by the definition of a cluster munition, because France and others agreed that they did not have the same negative humanitarian effects as cluster munitions (indiscriminate wide area effect and large numbers of unexploded submunitions). Largely at France’s initiative, the convention does not cover submunitions weighing more than 20kg, and France’s KRISS anti-runway submunition weighs 52kg.[24] France’s BONUS 155mm sensor-fuzed artillery projectile, which contains two submunitions, was excluded because it met the five technical criteria set out by negotiators as necessary to avoid the negative effects of cluster munitions.[25]

Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo on 3 December 2008. Giving one of the most unorthodox statements, Mr. Kouchner exclaimed, “Yes we can. Yes we can. The US can sign this treaty, Russia can sign, China can sign this treaty.” He said he would press the issue with United States President-Elect Barack Obama.[26]

Following the Dublin negotiations, France was among a group of states that was willing to continue to work for a cluster munition protocol within the context of the CCW as long as it would be “compatible” with the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[27] When the CCW negotiations failed to reach a conclusion in November 2008, France cited serious problems with the draft text, but was not one of the 26 states that issued a joint statement expressing their opposition to the weak draft text on a possible CCW protocol on cluster munitions, indicating it was an unacceptable step back from the standards set by the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[28]

NGO activity on cluster munitions in France has been extensive and influential. Handicap International started its cluster munitions campaign in 2004. Its various actions drew the attention of Members of Parliament and resulted in more than 100 parliamentary questions asked on the subject in 2005. Handicap International’s “Shoe Pyramid” quickly became an annual mobilization tradition, gathering as many as 70,000 signatures in one day. On 17 April 2008, Handicap International held a conference at the National Assembly and presented members and representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a petition of over 525,000 signatures calling for a treaty banning cluster munitions. By the beginning of 2009, it had collected more than 600,000 signatures.

Use, Production, Transfer, and Stockpiling

France has stated that it has not exported cluster munitions since 1989, has not used them since 1991, and has not produced them since 1992.[29] France used cluster munitions in Chad in 1986 (on a Libyan airfield at Wadi Doum)[30] and in Kuwait and Iraq in 1991.[31]

French companies were active in producing cluster munitions, often as part of multinational consortia. Giat Industries and Thomson Brandt Armements produced 155mm dual purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) artillery projectiles, as well as BONUS projectiles – the latter are not banned under the convention. Matra SA, R. Alkan et Cie, and Thomson Brandt Armements were associated with the production of air-dropped cluster bombs. Aerospatiale and Thomson Brandt Armements participated in the production of rockets and missiles with cluster munition warheads.[32]

The record of France’s history of cluster munition exports is incomplete. Jane’s Information Group lists exports of the BLG-66 Belouga cluster bomb to Argentina, Greece, and India.[33]

In February 2009, France told Human Rights Watch that it had already removed from operational service the entirety of its stock of cluster munitions, which it said consisted of 22,000 M26 rockets and 13,000 OGR 155mm artillery shells.[34] The M26 rockets would contain 14,168,000 submunitions (644 each) and the OGR would contain 819,000 submunitions (63 each).

France decommissioned and destroyed its stockpile of BLG-66 Belouga cluster bombs between 1996 and 2002.[35] In a working paper from 2005 France stated that at the time it had four types of cluster munitions in its stockpile: M26 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) rockets, OGR 155mm DPICM artillery projectiles with submunitions equipped with self-destruct fuzes, BONUS 155mm sensor-fuzed weapons, and Apache missiles that deliver 10 KRISS anti-runway submunitions. France announced during the Dublin negotiations that it was withdrawing M26 cluster munitions from service, stating this constituted over 90% of its stocks. As noted above, BONUS and KRISS are not considered cluster munitions under the terms of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

[1] CMC, “Report on the Special Event on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, United Nations, New York, 18 March 2009.” In a 27 February 2009 letter to Human Rights Watch, France said the ratification procedures were launched without delay after signature of the convention. It noted that the internal procedure requires an inter-ministerial consultation and a legal consultation at the Council of State before transmission to Parliament. It said that it considers rapid ratification to be of utmost importance. Letter from Philippe Etienne, Principal Private Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, No. 001263CM, 27 February 2009.

[2] Email from Marion Libertucci, Advocacy Officer, Handicap International, 16 April 2009.

[3] There was some early support for a ban on cluster munitions. In September 2004, Parliamentarian François Rochebloine proposed legislation in the National Assembly to broaden France’s prohibition on antipersonnel landmines to weapons that have the same effects, including cluster munitions. National Assembly, “Proposition de loi visant à compléter le dispositif de contrôle et d’interdiction des mines antipersonnel” (“Proposed legislation to complement the control and prohibition of antipersonnel mines”), n°1821, 22 September 2004. Another law was proposed in November 2005 by Georges Hage and other deputies to ban completely cluster munitions. National Assembly, “Proposition de loi visant à compléter le dispositif d’interdiction des mines antipersonnel” (“Proposed legislation to complement the mine ban”), n°2640, 9 November 2005.

[4] Working Paper on Submunitions, Presented by France, Twelfth Session of the CCW Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Cluster Munitions, Geneva, CCW/GGE/XII/WG.1/WP.9, 15 November 2005, p. 1.

[5] Ibid. The paper also said, “French Armed Forces envisage using ground-to-ground submunition weapons exclusively in the context of a conflict against an enemy of the same nature, equipped with similar weapons, or likely to directly threaten the safety of French forces on the ground,” p. 2.

[6] Senators Jean-Pierre Plancade and Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, “Session Ordinaire de 2006–2007, Annexe au procès-verbal de la séance du 13 décembre 2006, Rapport d’information fait au nom de la commission des Affaires étrangères, de la défense et des forces armées (1) sur les armes à sous-munitions, ” N°118, www.senat.fr. For information about the report and the debate it engendered, see Laurent Zecchini, “Paris ne souhaite pas s’associer à une interdiction international” (“Paris does not want to join an international ban”), Le Monde, 21 December 2006. Email from Marion Libertucci, Handicap International, 14 April 2009.

[7] Declaration on Cluster Munitions, Presented by Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Holy See, Hungary, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland, Third Review Conference of the States Parties to the CCW, Geneva, CCW/CONF.III/WP.18, 17 November 2006.

[8] Statement of France, Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions, 22 February 2007. Notes by Landmine Action.

[9] Ibid, 23 February 2007.

[10] Ibid, 22 February 2007.

[11] Statement of France, Session on Definition and Scope, Lima Conference on Cluster Munitions, 24 May 2007. Notes by Landmine Action.

[12] Non-paper presented by France, Lima Conference, 23–25 May 2007.

[13] Statement of France, Session on Storage and Stockpile Destruction, Lima Conference, 24 May 2007.

[14] Hugh Wheelan, “Axa pulls insurance assets from cluster bomb makers, Handicap International and Amnesty International will work with group to identify manufacturers,” Responsible Investor, 27 July 2007, www.wilpf.int.ch. The action followed a public campaign by Handicap International and Amnesty International France and publication of a report by Netwerk Vlaanderen in February 2007 which listed several French banks as being part of financial institutions involved in investing in cluster bombs. Netwerk Vlaanderen, “Explosive Investments: Financial Institutions and Cluster Munitions,” February 2007, www.netwerkvlaanderen.be.

[15] National Assembly, “Proposition de loi tendant à l’élimination des bombes à sous-munitions” (“Proposed legislation for the elimination of cluster munitions”), n°206, 27 September 2007. He proposed adding a chapter on the elimination of cluster bombs in the defence code.

[16] National Assembly, “Proposition de loi visant à interdire les bombes à sous-munitions” (“Proposed legislation for the elimination of cluster munitions”), n°806, 9 April 2008.

[17] Statement of France, Vienna Conference on Cluster Munitions, 6 December 2007.

[18] France itself proposed to exclude cluster munitions with less than 10 submunitions and to exclude submunitions with self-destruct, self-neutralization, or self-deactivation mechanisms or a dud rate below 1% and an accuracy requirement that its submunitions be effective only within a pre-defined target area. Proposal by France, “Scope, definition, review clause,” Wellington Conference on Cluster Munitions, 18– 22 February 2008.

[19] Jointly with Germany, France proposed to delete obligations for past users of cluster munitions and instead substitute language taken from Protocol V to the Convention on Conventional Weapons. Proposal by Germany and France, “Article 4 – Clearance, removal or destruction of explosive remnants of cluster munitions (ERCM),” Wellington Conference, 18–22 February 2008.

[20] Statement of France, Session on Storage and Stockpile Destruction, Wellington Conference, 21 February 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[21] Proposal by France, “Procedural, National Implementation, Dispute,” Wellington Conference, 21 February 2008.

[22] Statement of France on behalf of like-minded countries, Closing Plenary, Wellington Conference, 22 February 2008, www.mfat.govt.nz.

[23] Joint statement by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Hervé Morin, Minister of Defense, Paris, 23 May 2008, www.ambafrance-uk.org.

[24] The exclusion is at Article 2.2. For KRISS, see, Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), p. 345.

[25] Article 2.2(c) excludes munitions with submunitions if they have less than 10 submunitions, and each submunition weighs more than four kilograms, can detect and engage a single target object, and is equipped with electronic self-destruction and self-deactivation features.

[26] Statement of France, Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference, Oslo, 3 December 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[27] “Group of Governmental Experts, Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons,” CMC, 14 August 2008, www.stopclustermunitions.org.

[28] Statement delivered by Costa Rica on behalf of Austria, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Croatia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Indonesia, Ireland, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, Uruguay, and Venezuela, Fifth 2008 Session of the CCW GGE on Cluster Munitions, Geneva, 5 November 2008.

[29] Letter from Philippe Étienne, Principal Private Secretary to the Minister for Foreign, No. 001263CM, 27 February 2009.

[30] A deminer involved in clearance operations in Chad related this to Human Rights Watch.

[31] Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), p. 345.

[32] Leland S. Ness and Anthony G. Williams, eds., Jane’s Ammunition Handbook 2007–2008 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2007), pp. 654–655, 661–662; and Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), pp. 152–156, 344–346.

[33] Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), pp. 835, 839, 840.

[34] Letter from Philippe Étienne, Principal Private Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, No. 001263CM, 27 February 2009.

[35] Working Paper on Submunitions presented by France, Twelfth Session of the CCW GGE on Cluster Munitions, Geneva, CCW/GGE/XII/WG.1/WP.9, 15 November 2005, p. 3.