The Pentagon has announced that the US military will continue to use and export even the most unreliable cluster bombs over the next decade.
The policy decision comes shortly after 111 countries, including major NATO allies, agreed to a global treaty banning cluster bombs.
The new policy states that the United States will not impose restrictions on the use or export of cluster bombs, including those with high failure rates, until 2018. The announcement drew heavy criticism from human rights groups because of the danger that unexploded cluster munitions pose to civilians.
“Washington’s cluster bomb policy is way too little, way too late,” said Steve Goose, director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch, and member of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL) steering committee.
“Most key U.S. allies have already rejected cluster munitions because innocent civilians are killed and maimed, not only when the weapons are used but also months and years after that. Knowing this, how in good conscience can the US wait 10 years to accept a lesser standard?”
Cluster bombs are large weapons containing dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions that have a long track record of harming more civilians than combatants. Two features of this weapon led the international community to ban its usage. First, their wide-area coverage kills and injures civilians who are present during military strikes. Second, many submunitions do not explode, becoming de facto landmines that cause civilian casualties for months or years to come.
The United States is the leading known user, producer, stockpiler, and exporter of cluster munitions. The US government did not join in global negotiations that took place in May 2008 to ban cluster munitions, nor in any of the preparatory meetings.
“The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines urges the United States government to declare now that it will sign the global cluster munitions treaty when it opens for signature in December 2008,” said Lora Lumpe, USCBL coordinator and legislative representative at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
She added that the new Pentagon policy represents a step backwards in that it seeks to reverse the prohibition on exports of cluster bombs passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush last year.
“Congress should make the cluster bomb export ban permanent and reign in cluster bomb use by passing the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act,” said Lumpe.
Last year, two senators proposed the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act, which would require ban use and export of all but the most reliable cluster bombs. The bill currently has 21 co-sponsors in the Senate.
The Pope, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEF, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Christian relief group World Vision, among others, have joined in condemning the use of the indiscriminate weapons.