Depleted uranium weapons: not becoming any more acceptable
While states debate the merits of a fifth NAM-sponsored resolution on arms and ammunition containing depleted uranium, the US is deploying A10 gunships to the Middle East. By weight, A10s have been responsible for more depleted uranium (DU) contamination than any other platform. Iraq called for a global treaty ban on DU weapons this summer, in part because a lack of clearance obligations has ensured that contamination in the country from 1991 and 2003 remains unresolved. In light of this, the renewed use of DU on Iraqi territory would be wholly unacceptable.
Elsewhere, the Ukrainian defence ministry has launched an investigation into whether DU tank ammunition was used in recent fighting at Luhansk airport. Images of blackened tanks and footage of apparently radioactive wreckage have been circulating online. Regardless of the outcome of the investigations, it is clear from the tone of the debate that the use of DU in conventional weapons remains highly controversial.
The passage of 2012’s biennial resolution with the support of 155 states appears to support this observation, suggesting as it does that international opinion is moving steadily against the weapons. ICBUW argues that this is rightly so. Indeed the more we learn about how DU can interact with the human body, about how complex its post-conflict management is and how the reality of its use in conflict differs wildly from its promoted use solely against armoured targets, the more urgent the call for the DU issue to be tackled becomes.
In spite of the growing support for the resolutions, a number of states still abstain. The EU is disproportionately represented in this group. The European Parliament has long been vocal on the issue and this year called on Member States to: "support UNGA resolutions on depleted uranium weapons and to develop an EU Common Position that better reflects Parliament’s repeated calls for a precautionary global moratorium and the developing global consensus on the potential civilian health risks, complex post-conflict management burden and financial costs associated with their use”.
While the presence of two DU producers within the EU bloc may make a common position unobtainable, the majority of those still abstaining do not have DU weapons, are not seeking DU weapons, do not allow DU weapons on their domestic ranges and regularly commit troops to joint operations where they may be exposed to DU. On paper at least, they have little to lose by voting in favour.
The indiscriminate contamination from DU weapons presents a health risk to civilians long after conflict ends. Its management places a significant post-conflict burden on affected states. Their use runs counter to internationally accepted norms on radiation protection and wins neither hearts nor minds. ICBUW therefore urges states to speak out on the topic, engage with civil society in the debate over their acceptability and work towards substantive progress on resolving the issue.
This article first appeared in Reaching Critical Will's First Committee Monitor: http://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/1com/FCM14/FCM-2014-No2.pdf