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The Kingdom of the Netherlands signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in Oslo on 3 December 2008. In February 2009, the Netherlands confirmed that it had initiated the ratification procedure and is “fully committed to the quick entry into force of the Convention.” It explained that “the ratification procedure in the Netherlands entails obtaining an advisory opinion from the Council of State and the explicit approval of Parliament. This procedure normally takes 12 to 18 months. Pending the CCM’s entry into force, the Netherlands will apply Article 1 of the CCM provisionally.”[1]

The Netherlands is party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) and its Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). The Netherlands has been an active participant in the CCW work on cluster munitions in recent years.

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

The Netherlands had the leading role in the development of CCW Protocol V on ERW from 2001 to 2003. It was agreed to by CCW States Parties in November 2003 and entered into force in November 2006. The Netherlands had formally proposed to put the subject of ERW on the agenda of the CCW in 2000, and the Netherlands’ Ambassador Chris Sanders coordinated the negotiation of the protocol’s text. That instrument was in large part a response to concerns regarding the post-conflict problems caused by cluster munitions, but addressed the issue in general terms and primarily by requiring post-conflict remedial measures.

In 2003, at the request of Pax Christi Netherlands, the government of the Netherlands provided initial funding for the formation of the CMC, a civil society partnership that was formally launched in The Hague in November 2003.[2] Despite this early leadership on ERW and cluster munitions, the Netherlands was slow to embrace the Oslo Process and was not supportive of a broad prohibition on cluster munitions until the end of the negotiations on the Convention on Cluster Munitions in May 2008.

The Netherlands began destroying some of its cluster munition stockpiles in 2005 and 2006, but in the face of growing public and parliamentary pressure the government continued to maintain that cluster munitions were legitimate and necessary weapons.

In October 2006, opposition parties supported the call of several NGOs to immediately stop the use of cluster munitions worldwide.[3] During the same month, a parliamentary motion was initiated calling on the government to commit itself to an international treaty that “constrains or forbids” the use, production, and trade of cluster munitions. The motion was rejected.[4]

In November 2006, at the Third Review Conference of the CCW, the Netherlands did not support a proposal for a mandate to negotiate a legally-binding instrument “that addresses the humanitarian concerns posed by cluster munitions.”[5] After the mandate was rejected by a number of other countries, the Netherlands did not join 25 nations in issuing a declaration calling for an agreement that would prohibit the use of cluster munitions “within concentrations of civilians,” prohibit the use of cluster munitions that “pose serious humanitarian hazards because they are for example unreliable and/or inaccurate,” and require destruction of stockpiles of such cluster munitions.[6] At the end of the Review Conference, Norway announced that it would start an independent process outside the CCW to negotiate a cluster munition treaty and invited other governments to join.

The Netherlands participated in the Oslo Process from the outset, though it made clear its preference for the CCW, and frequently expressed reservations about the process and the draft convention text, particularly the notion of a comprehensive ban. It participated in the initial conference in Oslo in February 2007, the three international diplomatic conferences to develop the convention text in Lima, Vienna, and Wellington, and the formal negotiations in Dublin in May 2008. It also attended the regional conference in Brussels in October 2007.

At the Oslo conference in February 2007, the Netherlands maintained that an international agreement on cluster munitions already existed: CCW Protocol V. What mattered now, it claimed, was to operationalize Protocol V. It called for a reference to Protocol V in the Oslo Declaration.[7] At the end, the Netherlands was one of 46 nations to endorse the Oslo Declaration, committing them to conclude in 2008 a legally-binding international instrument to prohibit cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

On 18 March 2007, considerable public outcry was generated when Dutch television aired a documentary titled “The Clusterbomb Feeling,” an exposé into major pension funds’ investments in companies involved in the production of landmines and cluster munitions.[8] Many pension funds subsequently announced their intention to end investments in cluster munition manufacturers.[9]

In April 2007, Krista van Velzen of the Socialist Party submitted a private member’s bill to the Council of State forbidding the use, stockpiling, transfer and production of cluster munitions.[10] However, the bill was not discussed in Parliament before the Dublin negotiations in May 2008.

During the Lima conference in May 2007, the Netherlands stated that it was not in favor of a comprehensive ban on cluster munitions. The Dutch Ambassador stated that when the Norwegian chair introduced the Oslo Declaration on 23 February “he explained…and I quote, ‘Our aim is to ban a certain part of the universe of cluster munitions.’ unquote.… The objective of Oslo is not to ban an entire category of weapons.”[11] The Netherlands continued to emphasize the CCW as the preferred environment for work on this issue.[12]

On 26 June 2007, the Netherlands announced a temporary suspension of the use of cluster munitions, stating that the military would not use cluster munitions until further notice.[13] Henceforth, the Parliament would be notified in a timely manner in the event cluster munitions were to be used.[14]

At the Vienna conference in December 2007, the Netherlands stated, “Since that ‘founding meeting’ of the Oslo Group the discussion papers tabled at the follow-on meetings in Lima and Vienna have drifted away from [the] original aim” of the Oslo Process: to ban those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm. The Netherlands argued that the proposed draft convention text implied “a ban on all future types of cluster munition, whose characteristics are as yet unknown but may include types that do not cause unacceptable harm to civilians and hence do not have to be banned.”[15] The Netherlands argued for exceptions for cluster munitions with low failure rates and self-destruct mechanisms, and for cluster munitions containing fewer than 10 submunitions.[16] The Netherlands also proposed the inclusion of a specific article on the relationship of a future treaty with existing international instruments, mentioning CCW Protocol V.[17]

During the Wellington conference in February 2008, the Netherlands aligned itself with the so-called like-minded group that put forward numerous proposals that the CMC sharply criticized as weakening the draft text. In addition to continuing to oppose a broad prohibition, the Netherlands supported the deletion of special obligations for past users of cluster munitions.[18] It endorsed a discussion paper calling for provisions aimed at facilitating “interoperability” (joint military operations with states not party).[19] It supported a new provision allowing retention of cluster munitions for training and research purposes.[20] At the conclusion of the conference, the Netherlands associated itself with a statement made on behalf of the “like-minded” group declaring dissatisfaction with the conference as it felt different opinions and views had not been taken into account in a balanced way.[21] The Netherlands itself criticized “an unnecessary polarization.”[22] However, it announced it would subscribe to the Wellington Declaration, indicating its intention to participate fully in the Dublin negotiations on the basis of the Wellington draft text.

In April 2008, the Ministry of Defense in collaboration with national research bodies reported on an inquiry into precision and reliability as criteria by which to distinguish “acceptable” from “unacceptable” cluster munitions. They concluded that reliability rates of weapons depend on the context and are therefore difficult to ascertain. On this basis, the government decided it was preferable to use technical properties, such as the presence of self-destruction and self-neutralization mechanisms and the number of submunitions.[23]

NGO campaigning activities intensified in the Netherlands ahead of the final period of treaty negotiations.[24]

During the Dublin Diplomatic Conference in May 2008, the Netherlands increased its emphasis on interoperability, arguing that a solution to this would be vital to achieving consensus.[25] It said that the Netherlands would not be able to join a convention which would affect its choice of military partners.[26] The Netherlands proposed that the convention should employ a three tier approach to prohibition, including exemptions for munitions with a limited number of submunitions; a middle range of cluster munitions which would be subject to cumulative requirements; and a bottom tier of a “massive number” of cluster munitions which would be subjected to prohibition outright.[27]

On 22 May, however, the lower house of the Netherlands’ parliament accepted a parliamentary motion for a comprehensive ban on cluster munitions.[28] The motion called on the Netherlands to pursue the strongest treaty possible in Dublin, and played an important role in a shift in Dutch policy in Dublin toward a more constructive approach and greater willingness to accept key elements of the draft text.[29]

At the conclusion of the negotiations, the Netherlands announced that while it was not “entirely happy” with the text, it could join consensus and adopt the convention. The Netherlands said that it hoped to persuade observers and those not present to sign the convention, while calling for the states present in Dublin to ratify CCW Protocol V.[30]

Following the death of Dutch television cameraperson Stan Storimans in Georgia during a Russian attack on Gori on 12 August 2008, the Dutch government undertook an investigation which concluded that his death was caused by a Russian cluster munition.[31] Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen called on all user countries, particularly Russia and Georgia, to join the Netherlands in signing the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo.[32]

After the adoption of the convention in May, the Netherlands continued to support work in the CCW on cluster munitions. In November, as CCW negotiations were scheduled to conclude, the Netherlands did not join 26 states that issued a 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.[33] When CCW States Parties failed to reach agreement, the Netherlands was one of the most vocal supporters of work continuing the following year.[34]

Upon signing the convention in Oslo in December 2008, Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen spoke of his visit to Afghanistan where he had met Stan Storimans and said that this death had “brought the truth home: cluster bombs kill.” He said the convention “codifies the strongest possible norms,” and that he was “confident that it will attach such a stigma to cluster bombs that even countries that are not present today to sign it will think twice before using these weapons.”[35] The minister also called for the continuation of negotiations on a new protocol on cluster munitions in the CCW. He said that the Netherlands had already begun destroying its stocks of cluster munitions and that it would “start the process of ratifying the Convention right after the signing ceremony.”[36]

In a February 2009 letter to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided views on a number of interpretive issues in relation to the convention. It stated that “the transit across Dutch territory of cluster munitions that remain the property of the third party in question is not prohibited under the Convention.” It said that investments in production of cluster munitions run counter to the spirit of, but are not banned by, the convention. On interoperability, it noted that States Parties should encourage others to accede to the convention and “try to discourage them from using cluster munitions.” However, “military cooperation with States not Party is still permitted, including operations where the use of cluster munitions cannot be ruled out…. The consequences of this article for NATO operations are currently being clarified.”[37]

Use, Production, Transfer, and Stockpiling

In the past, the Netherlands used, produced, imported and, reportedly, exported cluster munitions. It has a stockpile, now slated for destruction.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force dropped 173 CBU-87 cluster bombs (with 202 bomblets each) during the 1999 NATO air campaign in the former Yugoslavia.[38]

In the past, the company Eurometaal NV produced cluster munitions in the Netherlands. It produced M483A1 and M864 155mm artillery projectiles with dual purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) submunitions. This capacity was closed in 2002.[39]

In total, the Netherlands once possessed more than 191,500 cluster muntions containing some 26 million submunitions.[40]

Three cluster munition systems remain in the stockpiles: 293 CBU-87 bombs (containing 59,186 submunitions), 1,879 M261 multi-purpose submunition (MPSM) 70mm unguided air-to-surface rockets (containing 16,911 submunitions), and an unknown quantity of M483A1 155mm projectiles (which contain 88 submunitions each).[41] The Netherlands removed from service two other cluster munition types: M26 rockets and BL755 bombs (see below).

In February 2009, the Netherlands reported that the length of time to complete stockpile destruction will depend on “international procedures and industrial capacity,” and will include the involvement of the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA). It said that destruction of the M483 projectiles “is already in progress and the Dutch government has already started making preparations for the destruction of the other stocks.” It also noted that the Netherlands intends to retain “a limited number of cluster munitions and explosive submunitions” for development and training purposes permitted under the convention.[42]

On 30 May 2008, the day the Dublin negotiations concluded, the Netherlands announced that it would destroy all remaining stockpiled cluster munitions, which it said included CBU-87 aircraft bombs and M-261 rockets used by Apache helicopters.[43] Just a month earlier in April 2008, the Dutch Minister of Defense had stated that the CBU-87s would be destroyed, but the M-261s would be kept, since the chances of these leaving unexploded ordnance behind was no higher than with other munitions.[44] The Royal Netherlands Air Force had previously considered, instead of destroying CBU-87s, modifying them with precision guidance capability and a self-destruct feature.[45]

In 2004, the Royal Netherlands Army reportedly had a stockpile of 174,000 M483A1 155mm DPICM artillery projectiles containing 15.3 million submunitions. Of these, 120,000 projectiles were to be destroyed (likely due to age and reliability concerns) and 54,000 retained until the delivery platform was taken out of service.[46] In May 2005, the government said, “Due to replacement of artillery systems most M483 DPICM grenades [submunitions] are to be taken out of inventory.”[47] NAMSA has been contracted to demilitarize the remaining M483A1 projectiles.[48]

In January 2006, the Ministry of Defense announced the transfer of 18 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) launchers to Finland.[49] It was reported that 400 M26 rockets, each containing 644 M77 DPICM grenades, would be included in the sale for qualification testing and conversion into training rockets. The remaining stockpile of 16,000 M26 rockets in the Dutch inventory were to be destroyed, as there was “no market” for them , according to the State Secretary for Defense Procurement.[50]

The Netherlands once stockpiled an unknown quantity of UK-produced BL-755 cluster bombs, but in October 2005 the State Secretary for Defense Procurement stated that the BL-755 cluster bombs would be destroyed, with the disposal process to be completed by the end of 2006.[51]

[1] Letter from Henk Swarttouw, Director, Security Policy Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 26 February 2009. Article 1 contains the basic prohibitions on use, production, stockpiling, transfer, and assistance with prohibited acts.

[2] Pax Christi Netherlands, “Conference Report, CMC International Launch Conference, 12–13 November 2003.”

[3] For more details, see Roos Boer, Frank Slijper, and Miriam Struyk, “The Devil is in the Detail,” IKV Pax Christi, Utrecht, February 2008, pp. 8–9.

[4] Motie van het lid Koenders c.s. (Motion by MP Koenders), House of Representatives, Meeting year 2006–2007, 30 800 V, no. 17, 19 October 2006, rijksbegroting.minfin.nl.

[5] Proposal for a Mandate to Negotiate a Legally-Binding Instrument that Addresses the Humanitarian Concerns Posed by Cluster Munitions, Presented by Austria, Holy See, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, and Sweden, Third Review Conference of the States Parties to the CCW, CCW/CONF.III/WP.1, Geneva, 25 October 2006.

[6] Declaration on Cluster Munitions, Third Review Conference of the States Parties to the CCW, CCW/CONF.III/WP.18, Geneva, 17 November 2006.

[7] The Netherlands pointed to Protocol V’s potential to deal with unexploded cluster munitions and its preventative measures relating to munitions quality control in production and shelf life. Statement of the Netherlands, Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions, 22 February 2007. Notes by CMC/WILPF.

[8] It was produced by Jos van Dongen and André Tak for Zembla, a documentary program. “The Clusterbomb Feeling,” March 2007, Zembla, VARA and NPS broadcasting, zembla.vara.nl.

[9] Aaron Gray-Block, “ABN Amro shareholder Dutch pension fund ABP awaits proposed Barclays deal detail,” AFX News Limited, 12 April 2007, www.forbes.com; and “Massive Dutch pension fund drops investments in land mines, to disclose all holdings,” Associated Press, 6 April 2007, www.iht.com.

[10] Roos Boer, Frank Slijper, and Miriam Struyk, “The Devil is in the Detail,” IKV PAX Christi, Utrecht, February 2008, pp. 8–9. See also, “Initiatiefwet SP tegen clusterbom” (“Initiative against cluster bombs”), SP NL, 1 April 2007, www.sp.nl.

[11] Statement by Amb. Johannes C. Landman, Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, Lima Conference on Cluster Munitions, 24 May 2007.

[12] Ibid.

[13] IKV Pax Christi, “Netherlands suspends use of cluster munitions, but questions remain,” Press release, 27 June 2007, www.ikvpaxchristi.nl; Mike Corder, “Dutch military ordered to stop using cluster bombs until further notice,” Associated Press, 26 June 2007; and “Netherlands imposes moratorium on cluster bombs,” Xinhua, 26 June 2007.

[14] The announcement came one day before a parliamentary roundtable on cluster munitions organized by Members of Parliament (MPs) with the support of IKV Pax Christi. IKV Pax Christi, “Netherlands suspends use of cluster munitions, but questions remain,” Press release, 27 June 2007, www.ikvpaxchristi.nl.

[15] Statement of the Netherlands, Session on General Obligations and Scope, Vienna Conference on Cluster Munitions, 6 December 2007; and Proposal by Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom for additional text, Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions, CCM/48/Corr., 22 May 2008.

[16] Katherine Harrison, “Report from the Vienna Conference on Cluster Munitions 5–7 December 2007,” WILPF, January 2008, p.11–12.

[17] Statement of the Netherlands, Session on Procedural Items, Vienna Conference, 5 December 2007.

[18] Statement of the Netherlands, Session on Clearance, Wellington Conference on Cluster Munitions, 20 February 2008. Notes by CMC.

[19] Discussion Paper, “Cluster Munitions and Interoperability: The Oslo-Process Discussion Text and Implications for International Operations,” presented by Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, Wellington Conference, 18–22 February 2008, www.mfat.govt.nz.

[20] Statement of the Netherlands, Session on Storage and Stockpile Destruction, Wellington Conference, 21 February 2008. Notes by CMC.

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

[22] Statement of the Netherlands, Closing Statement, Wellington Conference, 22 February 2008.

[23] Minister of Foreign Affairs M.J.M. Verhagen and Minister of Defense E. van Middelkoop, “Kamerbrief inzake clustermunitie” (“Parliamentary letter regarding cluster munitions”), 16 April 2008, www.minbuza.nl.

[24] IKV Pax Christi sent DVDs to all Members of Parliament which explained the human suffering caused by cluster munitions. Radio jingles were broadcast on Dutch radio, including messages from recognized military experts. Public action on the parliamentary square increased the pressure and put the issue high on the political agenda. Email from Roos Boers, Policy Advisor, IKV Pax Christi, 24 February 2009.

[25] Statement of the Netherlands, Committee of the Whole on Article 1, Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions, 19 May 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[26] Statement of the Netherlands, Informal Discussions on Interoperability, Dublin Diplomatic Conference, 22 May 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[27] Statement of the Netherlands, Informal Consultations on Definitions, Dublin Diplomatic Conference, 20 May 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[28] This motion was initiated by Angelien Eijsink, Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid).

[29] Email from Miriam Struyk, Senior Policy Advisor, IKV Pax Christi, 23 April 2009.

[30] Statement of the Netherlands, Closing Plenary, Dublin Diplomatic Conference, 30 May 2008. Notes by Landmine Action.

[31] “Cameraman killed by Russian bomb, Dutch say,” International Herald Tribune, 20 October 2008.

[32] Minister of Foreign Affairs M.J.M Verhagen, “Kamerbrief inzake het verslag van de onderzoekscommissie-Storimans” (“Parliamentary letter regarding the report from the investigation commission – Storimans”), 20 October 2008, www.minbuza.nl.

[33] 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 Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Cluster Munitions, Geneva, 5 November 2008.

[34] Statements of the Netherlands, Fifth 2008 Session of the CCW GGE on Cluster Munitions, Geneva, 7 and 12 November 2008. Notes by Landmine Action;. The Netherlands argued that the credibility of the CCW was at stake and that therefore it must adopt a mandate for 2009 to negotiate a “Protocol” on cluster munitions, and not continue its previous mandate to “negotiate a proposal” at the risk of making the CCW “a laughing stock.” The Dutch ambassador added that the government of the Netherlands would not use its taxpayers’ money on the issue otherwise. Statement of the Netherlands, 2008 Meeting of the States Parties to the CCW, Geneva, 13 November 2008.

[35] Statement by Maxime Verhagen, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference, Oslo, 3 December 2008.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Letter from Henk Swarttouw, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 26 February 2009.

[38] Minister of Foreign Affairs M.J.M. Verhagen, “Kamerbrief inzake beantwoording lijst van vragen over clustermunitie” (“Parliamentary letter regarding questions on cluster munitions”), 4 September 2008, www.minbuza.nl.

[39] Eurometaal was licensed by a US manufacturer to produce the DPICM artillery projectiles in its facility in Zaandam. First deliveries were made to the Dutch Army in 1989. Starting in 1994, Eurometaal shared production from the Zaandam plant with the licensed production undertaken by the Turkish company MKEK at its production facility in Kirikale. Leland S. Ness and Anthony G. Williams, eds., Jane’s Ammunition Handbook 2007–2008 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2007), pp. 336–338 and 635–636.

[40] This includes at least 173,000 M483 projectiles (15,224,000 submunitions), 16,400 M26 rockets (10,561,600 submunitions), 293 CBU-87 bombs (59,186 submunitions), 1,879 M261 rockets (16,911 submunitions), and an unknown number of BL-755 bombs (247 submunitions each). Letter from Henk Swarttouw, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 26 February 2009; Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2005–2006, Aanhangsel, pp. 237–239 (Parliamentary record of questions posed by MP Van Velzen and responded to by the State Secretary of Defence Van Der Knaap); Joris Janssen, “Dutch Plan to Update Cluster Weapons,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 19 October 2005.

[41] Letter from Henk Swarttouw, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 26 February 2009. These are all typically identified as US-produced weapons. It is not known when or how the Netherlands acquired them.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Verhagen: Ban on Cluster Bombs is Boost for Law of War,” Press release, 30 May 2008, www.minbuza.nl. Presumably, the M483A1 projectiles were not mentioned because they had already been removed from service by that time.

[44] “Netherlands Destroying CBU-87 Cluster-Bombs,” NIS News Bulletin, 18 April 2008, www.nisnews.nl.

[45] Joris Janssen, “Dutch Plan to Update Cluster Weapons,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 19 October 2005.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Communication from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Pax Christi Netherlands, May 2005. This also stated, “The remaining grenades are to be used by PzH2000 systems currently being introduced,” but the status of that program is not known.

[48] Statement by A. Ingram, House of Commons, Hansard, (London; Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 12 March 2007), Column 51-52W, www.publications.parliament.uk. 

[49] Ministry of Defense, “Finland Receives Two MLRS Batteries,” Press release, 13 January 2006, translated by Defense-aerospace.com.

[50] Joris Janssen, “Dutch Plan to Update Cluster Weapons,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 19 October 2005. The article said that the destruction of half of the M26s had already started and the other half will follow.

[51] Ibid.