Amnesty International won a remarkable victory last week when the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) agreed to end its dealings with companies known to produce cluster munitions. RBS is primarily taxpayer owned, and as a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), the United Kingdom is prohibited from investing in the direct production of cluster munitions, though not from investing in arms manufacturers more generally.
In mid-August, Amnesty International launched an intense campaign to pressure RBS to divest from cluster bomb manufacturers, arguing that the legal gap that permitted companies to invest in manufacturers as long as they did not directly invest in the production of cluster munitions violated the spirit of the cluster bomb treaty.
“RBS will not knowingly support any application for funding that would lead to contravention of the Oslo Convention on cluster munitions,” the email reads. “We will always seek to ensure that we only deal with defence-sector clients whose activities are compliant with both the letter and the spirit of the Convention.”
“After discussions with various NGO groups we have identified some defence-sector clients whose activities could be considered to be outside the spirit of the Convention. As a result, we will be suspending all further services to any client where we cannot be certain that they are in compliance with our policy.”
Amnesty’s success will put pressure on other British banks to follow suit, and on the British government to close these loopholes.
Divestment by British banks is unlikely, however, to induce manufacturers to cease production of cluster munitions. With diversified portfolios and several hefty contracts for a range of weapons systems, Alliant Techsystems, Lockheed Martin, and Textron Systems, the three American cluster bomb manufacturers most likely to be affected by this decision, should have no problem finding other investors. Nor can they expect American banks to follow their British counterparts’ lead; the United States has repeatedly expressed its unwillingness to sign the CCM, claiming that its “national security interests cannot be fully ensured consistent with the terms of the CCM.” Instead, the U.S. supports an amendment to Protocol V of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which, if accepted and ratified, will impose far fewer limits on the manufacture and stockpiling of these weapons and will permit their continued use, with some conditions. However, at the conclusion of last week’s meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts, there was no consensus on the draft text.
In September, signatories of the Convention on Cluster Munitions will gather in Lebanon to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. The CCM’s mere existence is an impressive achievement, but with continued hold-out from the United States, Russia, and China, it may prove to be little more than a moral victory for the humanitarian community.