by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
June 6, 2008
CLUSTER BOMBS HAVE NO PLACE IN BATTLE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Cluster munitions are the aerial cousins of the land mine. Fired by artillery or dropped from aircraft, they scatter dozens or hundreds of "bomblets" across a battlefield. They're designed to attack concentrations of troops and vehicles, and they do so with devastating impact in conflicts around the globe.
But like land mines, cluster munitions keep maiming and killing long after the battle is over. Handicap International, a English non-governmental organization, estimates that there are more than 100,000 victims of cluster bombs worldwide. More than 360 million sub-munitions of this kind have been dropped. Arsenals around the world contain an estimated stock of 4 billion pieces. From farmers who strike bomblets in their fields when they are tilling the soil to children who mistake them for toys, these munitions maintain their deadliness for years.
In 1997, 156 nations signed a treaty to ban the use of land mines. They have been so stigmatized as a weapon of war that the countries that have not signed on - such as the United States, Russia and China - are now reluctant to use them.
It is hoped the same thing will happen to cluster munitions. Last week, diplomats from 111 nations met in Dublin and agreed on a treaty to ban current types of cluster bombs and require the destruction of stockpiles within eight years.
As was the case a decade ago during negotiations for the Mine Ban Treaty, the talks did not involve the biggest makers and users of cluster bombs: the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan.
The treaty declares that a signatory nation "undertakes never under any circumstances to use cluster munitions" nor "develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, cluster munitions."
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said all participating nations backed a draft treaty he called "a real contribution to international humanitarian law" and "a very strong and ambitious text which nevertheless was able to win consensus among all delegations."
Needless to say, the Bush Administration doesn't agree. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said last week, "While the Untied States shares the humanitarian concerns of those in Dublin, cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility, and their elimination from U.S. stockpiles would put the lives of our soldiers and those of our coalition partners at risk."
This is the same language used a decade ago when the United States refused to sign the Mine Ban Treaty. The Bush Administration has tried to undercut this treaty, reportedly telling allies it will not alter its military doctrine and will continue to use cluster munitions as it sees fit. But it is hoped that the widespread support within the world community would put pressure on the U.S. and the other leading cluster-bomb makers to give them up, as they have given up land mines.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who earlier this year led a successful push to ban U.S. exports of cluster munitions, was in Dublin last week to attend the talks. He said that "weapons that are inherently indiscriminate, whether by design or effect, should have no place in the 21st century."
Another Vermonter, Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams, is equally unambiguous. Writing in The Boston Globe, the woman who was the driving force behind the Mine Ban Treaty called the cluster munition ban "not anti-military, but pro-humanity."
Few can argue that point. Cluster bombs are as barbaric a weapon as land mines and, like land mines, make no distinction between today's enemy or tomorrow's unlucky civilian.
We also should not buy the claims that so-called "smart" cluster bombs will hit targets more precisely, or that if they fail to detonate on impact, self-destruct mechanisms will solve the problem. We don't need high-tech cluster bombs. We need to stop dropping bombs on or near civilian populations and for the countries who have used cluster munitions to make commitments to clean up the unexploded bombs and support the victims of these weapons.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.