Monday, June 09, 2008

Cluster Bombs

One hundred and eleven countries have signed and adopted a treaty that bans the use of cluster bombs. The signatories have also agreed to never develop, acquire, retain or transfer cluster munitions. Cluster munitions, break apart in flight and scatter hundreds of smaller bomblets when they are used.

A major concern of the signatories is the risk unexploded bomblets pose to civilian populations long after the conflict that inspired their use has ended. They are "concerned that cluster munition remnants kill or maim civilians, including women and children, obstruct economic and social development, including through the loss of livelihood, impede post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction, delay or prevent the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, can negatively impact on national and international peace-building and humanitarian assistance efforts, and have other severe consequences that can persist for many years after use," as expressed in the official document. The agreement also requires the destruction of stockpiles of the weapons within eight years.

It has been estimated by the Red Cross that between ten and forty percent of the bomblets deployed fail to explode. In fact, in more than twenty countries huge tracts of what are referred to as “no-go” areas have been created as a result of the use of these weapons. It should be noted that in Laos, civilians are still suffering loss of life and injury from these unexploded munitions, almost forty years after the Viet Nam war. Israel dropped an estimated four million cluster bombs on Lebanon in 2006. It has been estimated that one million of these (twenty-five percent) failed to explode. Some two hundred and fifty civilians have been killed or injured from these unexploded bombs since the war ended. A single bomb can cover an area of eighteen square miles with bomblets.

The countries that represent the largest manufacturers and users of cluster bombs include the United States, Russia, China and Israel. These countries did not have representatives at the meeting and did not sign the treaty.

According to a report from CNN, “The United States would not agree to any ban because the country considers cluster munitions an important part of its defense strategy,” Stephen D. Mull, Acting Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, said.

In my judgment, there are no sufficient moral grounds that can be used to justify the use of such a weapon. When the long-lasting effects of such weapons are taken into account, the use of cluster bombs represents an insidious form of collective punishment. The insistence on the continued use of cluster bombs by the United State is shameful.

We can do better.

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