Cluster bombs were first used in World War II by German and Soviet forces. During the 1970s, the USA used massive numbers of cluster bombs in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. More recently, cluster bombs were used extensively in the Gulf War, Chechnya, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and in Lebanon in 2006. Calls for banning them have emerged strongly in recent years, and an international treaty to ban them was passed in May of 2008. Over one-hundred countries have signed the treaty. The United States and other countries that produce and utilize cluster bombs have not signed the treaty. While proponents of the ban argue that cluster bombs are too indiscriminate in their destructive force and costly to civilians post-conflict (due to “duds” that become, effectively, landmines), opponents of the ban argue that cluster bombs are an essential element of modern warfare strategies.
According to Handicap International, the NGO, 80 percent – 85 percent of the victims of cluster bombs are civilians and 23 percent are children.
“cluster bombs, like landmines, kill indiscriminately, and therefore they should be banned. This is how they work: A single cluster bomb spews dozens or hundreds of smaller sub-munitions, called bomblets, over a wide ‘footprint.’ The bomblets are designed to explode on impact and to destroy broad targets, such as massed armor and infantry formations.” Because of the weapon’s broad area of effect, they have often been documented as striking both civilian and military objects in the target area. This characteristic of the weapon is particularly problematic for civilians when cluster munitions are used in or near populated areas and has been documented by research reports from groups such as Human Rights Watch.Further compounding this problem is that, according to Handicap International, only 15 percent of the bombs reach their objectives.
“Up to 60% of the victims in southeast Asia are children. The weapons have recently been used in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Lebanon. The UN estimates that Israel dropped 4m in south Lebanon during last summer’s war with Hizbullah, with as many 40% failing to explode on impact.” These unexploded “duds” act as de facto mines that can terrorize communities for decades.
“For every cluster bomb dropped, a small percentage of the 202 bomblets released are duds. Bright yellow with red stripes and a little plastic parachute hood, these soda-can-sized death sticks have proven particularly attractive to curious children. Many are blown to bits and killed in the encounter, while others survive despite the loss of limbs.”
Cluster bombs are a threat in so far as the little bomblets become defacto landmines when they fail to explode on impact. Instead, they sit in waiting for a civilian or soldier to step on them or pick them up, whereupon they explode.
The Boston Globe reported, “One of the first casualties of the war on terrorism was the killing of four United Nations demining workers in early October and the total disruption of demining work. ‘We have lost 30 workers in the last decade on minefields, but this is the first time we have lost people in the office,’ said Syed Ahmad Farid Elmi, acting director of the demining team. More than 1,000 demining workers were put on “mandatory unpaid leave once it appeared that the United States might retaliate in Afghanistan.”
“Based on the evidence gathered by the Investigating Officer, it was clear that (the) majority of the cluster munitions were fired at open and uninhabited areas, areas from which Hezbollah forces operated and in which no civilians were present.”- Brig. Gen. Avihai
“The diplomatic efforts to ban cluster munitions, moreover, have costs. These weapons are not indiscriminate, and they do have a place in warfare. They are effective against moving or dispersed targets such as tank formations and airfields.”
“The case for a “new benchmark” is a fallacy that will undermine collective security. The treaty’s greatest impact will be not in protecting civilians but in hampering the military capability of the states that are most scrupulous in limiting the destructiveness of warfare.”
Times Online. May 29, 2008. – “If they are not used against such targets, then something else will be: probably rocket barrages or massed artillery. These have a humanitarian impact too – in civilian lives and in destroying infrastructure – and there will be more of them.”
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the U.N. offices in Geneva, said in May 2008, “experience shows us how the prohibition of certain categories of arms in a good faith negotiation with international organizations has never placed states’ national security in danger.”
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the U.N. offices in Geneva, “The true danger is owed more to ‘over-armament’ and the fact of trusting only in arms for assuring national and international security.”
Dick Devlin. “Ban these bombs that kill indiscriminately”. 12 July 2008] – “when U.S. soldiers stumbled upon tens of thousands of dud U.S. submunitions in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Iraq during Operation Desert Storm (Iraq, 1991), they did not know what the litter was. As a result of their curiosity, this type of U.S. weaponry killed and injured more American troops than any Iraqi weapon system during that war.”
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the U.N. offices in Geneva, said in May 2008, “Development, reciprocal trust, prevention, and creating conditions for a dignified life are parameters without which security or stability are impossible.”
That the United States is claiming that a cluster bomb ban treaty will undermine its ability to work with other nations in peace keepign and other operations is a sad and unfortunate threat and strong-arming tactic. The purpose is not to explain reality, but to threaten allies that dare to sign any ban with the prospect of losing the support of the United States in important strategic or humanitarian missions.
“We think that it is going to be impossible to ban cluster munitions, as many in the Oslo process would like to do, because these are weapons that have a certain military utility and are of use. The United States relies on them as an important part of our own defense strategy. Many of our allies rely on them as well.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aryeh Mekel said in early 2008, “We don’t think such an absolute ban is justified, and a balance between military needs and taking into account humanitarian considerations needs to be found.”
Times Online. May 29, 2008. – “The most enduring costs of an extensive treaty, however, will be to the solidarity of Nato. The United States insists on the option of using cluster munitions. The US is not merely one state among many. In the absence of world government, it is the provider and guarantor of collective security. Under the terms of the treaty, military personnel might face criminal prosecution if they operated alongside US forces.”
When new weapons are developed in the world, it is false to believe that they will be used immediately. Instead, older stockpiles are used, before they become too outdated. Therefore, improving cluster bombs will not necessarily prevent the use of the existing stockpiles of cluster bombs, which are malfunctioning and killing civilians as a result.
“Faced with growing international pressure, the Pentagon is changing its policy on cluster bombs and plans to reduce the danger of unexploded munitions in the deadly explosives.
The policy shift, which is outlined in a three-page memo signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, would require that after 2018, more than 99 percent of the bomblets in a cluster bomb must detonate. Limiting the amount of live munitions left on the battlefield would lessen the danger to innocent civilians who have been killed or severely injured when they accidentally detonate the bombs.”
Thomas Nash, international coordinator for the Cluster Munition Coalition, a network of about 200 organizations promoting the ban. – “From our perspective, this is quite an amazing result. Only a year and a half ago, countries would have said you were mad to think the world could turn around and ban cluster munitions with an international treaty, but what we’ve achieved here in Dublin is exactly that.”
“We think that it is going to be impossible to ban cluster munitions, as many in the Oslo process would like to do, because these are weapons that have a certain military utility and are of use.”
“Now, we understand very well the motives behind those participating in the Oslo process. We respect their interests in humanitarian concerns. But we have an essential tactical disagreement that unless you get all the major producers and users of these weapons to agree on how they’re going to regulate them, the – you’re not going to meet your goal of addressing the humanitarian impact of them.”