U.S. Fails to Join Cluster Bomb Ban Treaty at UN on March 18,09
March 28, 2009
U.S. Fails to Join International Cluster Munitions Ban Treaty; U.S. Legislation Weak
by Arn Specter
The United States has failed to join with the International Community
in signing on to an International Treaty banning the use of Cluster Bombs
in the world, although it has made laws and has pending legislation which
partially protects civilians from harm but falls far short of the provisions
provided by the International Treaty. Too, U.S. military policy directly
contradicts the aims of disarming cluster bomb use.
Led by The Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC), a network of around
200 civil organizations from over 50 countries including NGO's,
faith-based groups and professional organizations, formed in The Hague
in November 2003, the international effort to diminish the harmful effects
from attacks of falling cluster bombs from planes, led to a convention in Oslo, Norway last December when 95 countries signed a treaty banning cluster
munitions, in various ways. The CMC's goal to protect civilians from the effects
of cluster munitions gained a great success, helping to protect civilians worldwide.
The CMC has three Co-Chairs, currently Richard Moyes (Landmine Action),
Steve Goose (Human Rights Watch) and Grethe Ostern, (Norwegian People's Aid).
The Cluster Ban Treaty
The Cluster Ban Treaty bans the use, production, transfer, trade. and stockpiling
of cluster bombs, according to the Cluster Munitions Convention.
In May 2008 in Dublin, Ireland, more than 100 countries agreed on a preliminary signing to ban cluster bombs.
Signed last December in Oslo, Norway by 95 countries the Treaty commits
nations to clear affected areas within 10 years, declare and destroy stockpiled
cluster munitions within 8 years, help affected nations with clearance, and provide comprehensive assistance to victims of the weapon. The treaty will go into effect
after 30 nations have signed and ratified it. As of this date 5 nations have ratified.
The U.S. failed to sign that agreement and again failed to sign at a follow-up
meeting and treaty signing/ratification held on March 18, 2009 at the
United Nations in New York. At that event only one more country signed
and only one more country ratified the treaty. Also not signing are China, Russia, Israel, India and Pakistan.
Signatories included dozens of stockpilers and former producers and users
of the weapons. Eighteen of 26 NATO nations, including the UK, France
and Germany, signed the agreement. Also those countries most affected, such
as Laos, Lebanon, and Afghanistan signed.
Afghanistan, currently suported by NATO troops, signed the Treaty at the last moment. In explaining the move, Ambassador Jawed Ludin noted that his country belonged to a "region that suffers from dangerous overarmament" and credited the advocacy of Afghan victims of cluster munitions in the decision. Cluster Munitions were used by Soviet forces in Afghanistan during 1979-1989 and again by U.S.
forces during 2001-2002, reported Jeff Abramson, Arms Control Association,
Countries Sign Cluster Munitions Convention.
"Countries not yet committed to the global ban need to choose between real action
or increasing isolation. Regardless of what might happen elsewhere the stigma
against cluster bombs is already entrenched and the only standard to meet is the Convention on Cluster Munitions," said Thomas Nash, Coordinator of the
Cluster Munitions Coalition.
Africa Continues To Lead the Way On Cluster bomb Ban, by StopClusterMunitions.org, September 29, 2008, "Africa has been crucial to ensuring the creation of a strong treaty banning cluster munitions. Now African states should unite to ensure every govenment follows through and sign the Convention. said Dr., Roibert Mtonga of IPPNW Zambia, Africa spokesperson for the international Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC).
In Kampala, Uganda, September 29, 2008, forty African governments gathered in Uganda today at a meeting to promote signature of a groundbreaking treaty banning cluster bombs. "We don't want there to be any more victims from cluster munitions. For too long Africa has felt the devastating effects of indiscriminate weapons like landmines and cluster bombs. Signing the Convention on Cluster Munitions will help prevent civilian casualties and build peace" said Ms. Margaret Arach Orech, director of the Uganda Landmine Survivors Association, a CMC member.
Lobbying for the U.S. and other Countries to Sign the Treaty
Over the last few years there was much lobbying for the U.S. to take a serious
interest in the concerns of people all over the world for the banning of these dangerous weapons and to sign on to the Treaty in Oslo, Norway.
Petitions, phone calls, and e-mails were sent but the U.S. remained fixed in
it's position - not attending or signing the Treaty.
In December 2008, according to Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, March 13
- and others- a spokesman for the Obama transition team said the next
president would "carefully review" the treaty banning cluster munitions and
"work closely with our friends and allies to ensure that the United States is
doing everything feasible to promote protection of civilians". Earlier the
President, then Senator Obama did vote for a bill that would help protect
Perhaps the President wasn't able to grant a full review of the importance of
this provision in the new law due to the great length of the law or business of
his first 60 days in office.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations and the U.S. Congress have failed
to join with the international community in this most important effort fostering disarmament and the safety and security of civilians around the world despite lobbying by many people and groups in the U.S. and abroad.
Letter to The President
Oneworld.net reports, February 12, 2009, Obama Pushed to Prohibit Landmines, Cluster Bombs, Leaders from 67 diverse U.S. groups appealed to President Obama to reconsider U.S. noncompliance with international treaties banning the use of landmines and cluster bombs. The letter was generated by Lora Lumpe of the
Friends Center for National Legislation (FCNL) in Washington, D.C.
"We write to urge you to launch a thorough review within the next six months
of past U.S. policy decisions to stand outside the treaty banning cluster munitions,
as well as the treaty banning anti-personnel landmines. We expect that such a review will give appropriate weight to humanitarian and diplomatic concerns, as well as to
U.S military interests," said the letter to U.S., President Barack Obama, signed by groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Evangelicals for Social
Action, and policy think tank Citizens for Global Solutions. " The use of weapons that disproportionately take the lives and limbs of civilians is wholly counterproductive in today's conflicts, where winning over the local population is essential to mission success."
Also, in the letter, British Foreign Minister David Millband, representing the world's third largest user of cluster munitions in the past decade, asked states at the signing conference to "tell those not here in Oslo that the world has changed...that the new norm has been created". He went on to say: "Our global community must continually keep challenging itself about the way it behaves. Political leaders must show they are prepared to listen and respond to the voices of victims, of civil society, and of
In Portland, Maine the group Peace Action Maine says the U.S. should join
dozens of other countries that have signed a treaty calling for the elimination
of cluster bombs, reported boston.com, December 4, 2008 in the article,
Maine group: Ban cluster bombs. The same day 94 countries signed onto
the treaty ban in Oslo, Norway. Another country signed on later making a
total of 95 and now 96, with another signing on March 18, 2009.
History of the Coalition and Treaty
Work on the treaty began in 1976 when Norway joined a small group of
States that proposed that "anti-personnel cluster warheads or other devices
with many bomblets should be prohibited from use."
On December 13, 2001 the European Parliament passed a resolution calling
for an immediate global moratorium on their use to be followed by an outright
ban on the destructive weapons, by ITVS, Independent Television Service Website.
Since 2001 meetings have been held in different cities around the world.
Jurist.Law reported that Dublin, Ireland hosted and chaired a Diplomatic
Conference in Croke Park, in May 2008, attended by over 100 States
which adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM).
The heart of the Convention is an immediate and unconditional ban
on all cluster munitions which cause unacceptable harm to civilians...
The various meetings and conferences are deemed so important that
they are attended by people from international groups and organizations
who realize that disarmament of these weapons is paramount to protecting
civilians and fostering more of a climate of safety and security in countries worldwide. At the Convention in Oslo, Norway last December, which
established the International Treaty Ban, statements were prepared and read
by people from many countries including the United Nations Development Programme, Kathleen Cravero; United Nations' Children's Fund, Phillip O'Brien;
and Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Catherine Bragg.
Opening remarks by Espen Barth Eide, Norway Deputy Minister of Defence, February 23, 2007, Conference on Cluster Munitions said,
"Conflicts worldwide show that cluster munitions, an area weapon originally
designed for use against military targets located in open spaces, is in fact
extensively being used in populated areas. This makes the lack of agreement
on a regulation of the use of these munitions even more acute."
The Problem: Past and Current Harm to Civilians in War Conflicts
Most recently horrors of dismemberment and death to civilians by the use
and demolition of cluster bombs have occurred in Sri Lanka, south of India,
The horror of maiming and killing continues...from TamilNet.com, March 7, 2009,
Sri Lankan attacks kill 208 civilians within 72 hours, Sri Lanka Army (SLA) fired artillery-fitted cluster shells hit several IDP settlements within the "safety zone", claiming the lives of at least 53 civilians Saturday until 3:00pm. Around 112 civilians sustained injuries. On Friday, 86 civilians were killed and more than 100 civilians
were wounded. Dead bodies were not brought to the hospital as shelling continued. Thousands of civillans within the "safety zone" were forced to remain inside the bunkers. 69 civillians were killed on Thursday in the indiscrimninate shelling and Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) bombardments. More than 330 civilians have been wounded within the last 3 days.
Russian Attacks in Georgia Show Need for Convention on Cluster Munitions, by Bonnie Docherty, Researcher, published by JURIST, August 19, 2008 states that Russia has not only caused civilian casualties with its use of cluster munitions in Georgia, but it has also blatantly disregarded the international decision to ban the weapons. Russian cluster bombs killed eleven civilians and injured dozens more in two air strikes on August 12, 2008, according to Human Rights Watch. Some survivors suffered massive trauma to their abdomens and limbs. Two foreign journalists were among the casualties.
In an article, 100 countries join clamour for global ban on cluster bombs,
December 3, 2008, by Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, Matthias Schmale, international director of the British Red Cross said, "the weapons (cluster bombs)
had rendered hugh tracts of land unusable, cutting farmers off from their crops
and visiting further suffering on families forced to risk their lives simply to pursue
Laos, the most bombed nation on earth, was the fifth nation to ratify the Treaty.
Ian MacKinnon in Phonsavanh, Laos reports, The Guardian, December 3, 2008,
Forty years on, Laos reaps bitter harvest of the secret war,
from U.S. bombing 30 years ago during the Vietnam War 13,000 people have been killed or maimed, either digging in fields contaminated with live bombs or searching for scrap metal to sell, the people so poor and hungry they risk their lives to make some money to buy food for their families.
Says Sher Ya, 25, "My family grows only enough rice for six months, so when
we're not planting or harvesting we collect bomb scrape. It's scary, but we've no choice." Half the casualties are young boys, most killed by exploding tennis-ball-sized cluster bomblets- christened "bombies" locally - that are everywhere.
Reports Kim Sengupta, November 3, 2006, Study says almost all cluster bomb victims are children [civilians], The treaty is designed to protect civilians, 98% of victims of cluster bombs over the past three decades, a third of them children, declares Handicap International's report, November 2006. The study of 24 countries and regions showed that the weapons, still being used by government forces including those of the UK, have killed or maimed 11,044 people.
Angelo Simonazzi, HI's director general, said, "For 30 years governments have
failed to address the disportionate, long-term harm these weapons cause to civilian populations...they indiscriminately kill and injure." Cluster bombs - or subminitions - are packed into artillery shells or bombs dropped from aircraft. Up to 600 bomblets are typically scattered over an area the size of a football field from a single cluster-bomb canister fired to destroy airfields or tanks and soldiers.
Russia is believed to have hundreds of millions of stockpiled submunitions,
which it could use at any time if left unchecked. Georgia also stockpiles the weapons. The casualties reported in Georgia so far and the potential for so
many more are reminders of the need for a treaty that bans cluster munitions.
Many submunitions fail to detonate on impact and become de facto antipersonnel mines killing and maiming people long after the conflict has ended. Civilians in the area of a cluster bomb attack are completely vulnerable and are totally defenseless,
subject to being innocent victims, losing arms, hands and fingers; legs, feet and toes; eyes, ears and any of the five senses; some blinded for life, losing hearing or unable to eat or feed themselves, some unable to ever walk again or to move their bowels properly. Most families are so severly damaged psychologically they never live normal lives again.
At least 14 countries have used the weapons and over 24 countries have been
affected by them, meaning cluster bombs pose an even greater threat to civilians
than antipersonnel mines, according to the Cluster Munition Coalition.
U.S. Law and Current Legislation Weak
U.S. law and current legislation fall far short of protecting civilians than the
Cluster Ban Treaty. The Law, H.R. 1105, FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations
Act, Division H-State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, Title 1,
Department of State, p.155 was signed into law by President Barack Obama
earlier in March.. The Bill S.416 sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy
and Dianna Feinstein is currently active, after previous bills and law over
the last few years.
Current Law states: (b) Cluster Munitions - No military assistance shall be
furnished for cluster munitions, no defense export license for cluster munitions
may be issued, and no cluster munitions technology shall be sold or transferred, unless -
(1) the submunitions of the cluster munitions have a 99 percent or higher
functioning rate; and (2) the agreement applicable to the assistance, transfer,
or sale of the cluster munitions ...specifies that the cluster munitions will only
be used against clearly defined military targets and will not be used where
civilians are known to be present.
The law falls short of the International Treaty provisions as follows: there is no restriction on the manufacture of cluster bombs (the U.S. is the world's largest );
they can be sold or transferred if a country says it will not use them where
civilians are located ( most fighting occurs today in urban areas where safeguards against civilian casualties cannot be guaranteed and there is no oversight on another country's casualties. The fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan is mostly in rural areas); there is no limitation at all on the use of these bombs by the U.S. military
(the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Gates insist their use is of vital necessity);
no provision to reduce or eliminate stockpiles ( the U.S. has vast stockpiles of
5,500,000 bombs and 728,500,000 submunitions (hundreds may fit into one bomb).
The bill S.416, called "Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2009"
states: No funds appropriated or otherwise available to any Federal department
or agency may be obligated or expended to use any cluster munitions unless -
...(2) the policy applicable to the use of such cluster munitions specifies that the cluster munitions will only be used against clearly defined military targets and will
not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited
by civilians. (current U.S. policy in Pakistan does not prohibit the U.S.military
from firing missiles into civilian areas, maiming and killing many, and raising mass protests from the people and government of that country)
With current vast stockpiles to draw from the U.S. military or any federal department does not need any additional funds to acquire and use these cluster munitions thus making the provisions of this bill restricting funding rather useless.
In stock the U.S. has over 5,000,000 cluster bombs.
In addition, the bill allows the President to override any restrictions for use if
"it is vital to protect the security of the United States..." a provision so general
that the bill and the law, in effect , would become useless.
With close reading and understanding of the law and bill regarding cluster
bombs and civilian protection we see that the U.S. has failed time and time
again to show a genuine interest in disarmament or to show a serious interest in
protecting civilians from harm. Regardless of a few restrictions the
U.S. Military is still able to use and even foster the selling of these destructive weapons around the world. The International Treaty much more fully protects civilians from harms way from the potential dangers of cluster munitions.
The Convention on Conventional Weapons
Vs. The Convention on Cluster Munitions
Over the last decade or so an unusual international "battle" has taken place; two organizations lobbying for different cluster bomb regulations. According to
Human rights Watch, November 14, 2008, Geneva, as reported by OneWorld.net,
The United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and Finland were among the countries pushing for a new protocal to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) that would allow the use of all existing cluster munitions, including the oldest, most inaccurate, and unreliable varieties, for a period of up to 20 years.
"This draft CCW text would have given a sheen of legitimacy to nations that want
to continue to use cluster munitions," said Steve Goose, director of the
Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. "The nations that rejected it were right."
This is the third year in a row that efforts to deal with clustermunitions in the CCW have ended in failure. Less formal discussions on cluster munitions in the CCW began in 2001.
The U.S. position is described by Donna Miles, December 3, 2008,
American Forces Press Service,
U.S. commits to Reducing Collateral Damage from Cluster Bombs, reporting
"the best forum for such agreements is within the organization of the nations that produce them, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. "We are obviously concerned about unintended harm to civilians as a result of the whole range of munitions out there that are used in war. It is for that reason that we have taken
a leading role in the negotiations on cluster munitions, but within the framework
of the (United Nations) Convention on Conventional Weapons. (CCW)
The CCW includes all nations that produce cluster munitions, including China
and Russia. Like the United States these countries declined to sign the Convention
on Cluster Munitions agreement in Oslo. Whitman emphasized that the United States is committed to protecting civilians and civilian infrastructure from the unintended consequences of unexploded munitions yet insists on protecting itself against any
international restrictions or guidelines, despite the conviction of thousands/millions
of people around the world that it is best to do this for the benefit of mankind.
In stark contrast to the continued weapons of war and destruction guidelines proposed by the CCW and their strong militaristic governments (all those above except for Finland having nuclear weapons as well) the Convention on Cluster Munitions, set for signing in Dec. 2008 in Oslo was negotiated in Dublin
in May 2008 and unaminously adopted by 107 countries...bans all use, production, and trade of cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiles within 8 years,
and requires clearance of contaminated areas within 10 years. It also has groundbreaking provisions requiring assistance to cluster munition victims.
The U.S. is the world's leading known user, producer, stockpiler, and exporter
of cluster munitions.
The U.S. Military Position
In a Press Release put out by the CMC, August 7, 2008, Defense Secretary Gates has said the U.S. will also seek to ship cluster bombs to other countries despite
U.S. law prohibiting transfers. The U.S. policy will allow unfettered use of the
nearly 1 billion submunitions now in U.S. stockpiles for the next decade.
Almost all of these cluster munitions have a very high failure rate and are highly inaccurate, as shown in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and in southeast Asia.
(the U.S. also has stockpiles stored in other countries. British diplomats have
been trying to persuade the U.S. to get rid of stockpiles at its bases in the UK ).
U.S. policy concerning cluster munitions seems light years behind International
Treaty humanitarian concerns. According to Doug Tuttle, CDI
Research Assistant (Center for Defense Information), "Under the Bush administration, U.S. cluster munitions policy frustrated opponents of their use.
The United States last used cluster munitions in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but
the U.S. military still has up to 1 billion submunitions stockpiled.
In July 2008, faced with growing international pressure, the Pentagon released a
new policy, in a memo released by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, announcing that, after 2018, it will limit the use of cluster munitions to more reliable systems (those that, "after arming, do not result in more than one percent of unexploded ordnance across the range of intended operational environments").
While new policy, recognizes the humanitarian concerns associated with unexploded ordnance caused by cluster bombs, opponents believe that it offers too little, too late.
According to DemocracyNow.org, national public television news program,
hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy
said the Pentagon's move is a step back. In 2001 a defense policy issued by then Defense Secretary William Cohen called for a similar reduction in submunitions
from cluster bombs by 2005. Leahy said, "Now the Bush administration's 'new' policy is to wait another ten years."
"Even in 10 years time, this policy will not be sufficient to protect civilians", said Grethe Ostern of Norwegian People's Aid, co-chair of the CMC. "There are no
safe cluster bombs. The failure rate determined under testing conditions will
have little relationship to the real failure rate in combat. And even then, the
new U.S. policy will not address the indiscriminate wide area affect of cluster munitions during attacks."
Action to Protect Civilians Ahead
Despite a current campaign by one of our NGO's to support S.416
the U.S. can amend S.416 to include many more of the protections for civilians included in the International Treaty Ban restrictions and actually sign onto the
Treaty as well. The next "official" signing is at the UN in September.
By upgrading S.416 and/or signing onto the International Treaty Ban the U.S.
would uplift it's status greatly in the eyes of the world disarmament and peace community and help give hope to millions of civilians around the world
caught up in military conflicts where the U.S. or other countries who may purchase
weapons from the U.S. (the world's largest producer and arms dealer) may well
drop thousands of cluster bombs on them, causing lifelong injury and devastation.
Award for Humanitarian Service
In September 2008, a group of Lebanese and international deminers received a prestigious human-rights award for their work, which has cleared the way for nearly 1,000,000 displaced persons to safely return home. The deminers have cleared tens of thousands of mines and cluster munitions following a month-long conflict in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah, a powerful Shia militia active in southern Lebanon.
The United Nations High commissioner for Refugees reports.
For videos of the Dec.3 and 4th Convention from Oslo, Norway,
and other videos
for more background see: www.stopclustermunitions.org.
for testimony by victims and families see: www.banadvocates.org
Also: The United Nations has worked on Cluster Munitions as well
as NGO's in the U.S. and Europe. Their websites cover legal and
humanitarian concerns and the history of cluster bomb protest...
check Google or Yahoo Search, Cluster Munitions.
Arn Specter, Arn's News
P.O. Box 5857, Phila. Pa. 19128, USA