Cluster munitions convention takes effect
The military aberration that is cluster munitions has wrought an incredible price in terms of death, disfigurement and amputation. Some countries ratified a treaty to stop making cluster munitions, dispose of stockpiles, and clear contaminated areas. Several key countries including the US did not. Last week the treaty came into effect, and a article on the devastation still brought by dormant cluster munitions tells us why this is important.
Cluster bombs affect about two dozen nations, from Afghanistan to Zambia. But it was Israel’s use of the weapon in Lebanon in August 2006, causing more than 200 casualties over the following year, that spurred members of the international community to act. On Aug. 1, the Convention on Cluster Munitions comes into force under international law. The first gathering of the 106 member states will be held in the Laotian capital in November. Israel nor the United States will attend. In fact, the US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, and Israel are not signatories to the treaty. The US, among others, has argued that cluster bombs are an effective military tool that saves their soldiers’ lives. The US has also argued that it’s shifting to “smart” cluster bombs that self-destruct or deactivate, reducing the risk to civilians. Laos, the most bombed country in the world per capita, strongly backs the treaty. Between 1964 and 1973, the US dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance in a campaign kept hidden from Congress and the public. Since then, about 20,000 civilians have been maimed or killed by unexploded bombs, according to Legacies of War, a Washington-based group that raises awareness about America’s “secret war” in Laos.
We have reported on this issue previously. Progress seems slow, key players won’t act, and the deadly legacy of cluster munitions continues to take its toll.
The Reuters Alert briefing document on cluster munitions gives an excellent backgrounder on the issue.
“WHAT ARE THEY?
– A cluster bomb, or cluster munition, is a weapon containing multiple explosive submunitions. They are dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground and are designed to break open in mid-air, releasing the submunitions which can cover an area the size of several football fields.
– Anyone in that area is very likely to be killed or seriously injured. Many bomblets fail to detonate immediately, and, like land mines, can maim and kill years later.
WHEN AND WHERE HAVE THEY BEEN USED?
– The Soviet Union first used cluster bombs in 1943 against Nazi troops.
– Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military dropped an estimated 260 million cluster munitions in Laos. So far, fewer than 400,000 have been cleared, a meagre 0.47 percent and at least 11,000 people have been killed
– At least 15 countries have used cluster bombs, including Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Israel, Morocco, the Netherlands, Britain, Russia and the United States. A small number of non-state armed groups have used them.
– Cluster bombs were used extensively in the Gulf War, Chechnya, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
– The U.N. estimated that Israel used up to 4 million submunitions in Lebanon during a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas, who also fired more than 100 cluster munition rockets into northern Israel.
– Russia used several types of cluster munitions, both air- and ground-launched, in a number of locations in Georgia’s Gori district in 2008. Also Georgia used cluster munitions in the August 2008 conflict with Russia.
– One third of all recorded cluster munitions casualties are children. Sixty percent of cluster bomb casualties are people injured while undertaking everyday activities.
– Billions of submunitions are stockpiled by some 76 countries. A total of 34 states are known to have produced more than 210 different types.
– In March 2007 Belgium became the first country to make it a crime to invest in companies that make cluster bombs.”
Given the deadly legacy of cluster munitions one would think that a global treaty, similar to the one on landmines signed in 1997, would be desired by all. The landmine initiative was deemed to be successful, only defiant Burma has deployed landmines since that treaty was enacted. However, cluster munitions are still widely spread. Even today, a large arsenal was found secreted in the Afghan mountains, over 290 tonnes of hidden armaments which included a stockpile of the deadly cluster bombs. The US has recently stopped exporting cluster bombs due to international pressure, one of its biggest customers being Israel. However, occurring so late in the game this has limited effect, as Israel has now developed and continues to manufacture its own domestic version. Pressure needs to be kept on the nations that did not sign the treaty. The use of cluster bombs needs to be made illegal. Even today, so many years after the Vietnam war people die or are maimed every month by such munitions, that due to they way they are scattered indiscriminately and cannot be mapped or disarmed without massive trained personnel deployment. Cluster bombs are an indiscriminate killer that remain active long after a war has ended, and it is often children who carry the brunt of death or disability. It is a great shame that such an opportunity was missed, and the major producers should be called to answer for their non-action by the UN and by the populations of their respective countries. That is the story, 111 countries say yes, but the Top 5 producers and users of cluster bombs remain silent and uncommitted to the curtailment of their use.