(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 08, 2010
Treaty to Ban Cluster Bombs
WAR has been
under many guises throughout history, as a necessary evil or as
other means or even as justified under the circumstances. But nobody
claimed there is such a thing as a humane war. When the last survivor
First World War was being feted in
Wars are of course still with us. However, the past century or more has seen many international efforts to eliminate or at least minimise the worst excesses of wars, insulate non-combatants and regulate or prohibit certain classes of weapons that are particularly heinous. No one is under any illusion that states, especially those with hegemonic ambitions, will give up altogether on military dimension of power projection. Yet huge strides have been made, under pressure of global movements and growing public opinion, to ban or control several weapons systems. Mustard gas, anti-personnel land mines, and hollow-point “dum dum” bullets that explode inside the victims’ body have all been banned. Treaties to ban chemical and biological weapons have become a reality although, despite several arms control measures, the scourge of nuclear weapons has not yet been eradicated.
In this context, an important milestone was reached on August 1, 2010 when a new international treaty imposing a complete ban on cluster bombs came into effect.
Convention on Cluster
Munitions (CCM), which had been signed by 107 countries in
The treaty requires all adherents “never under any circumstances” to (a) use cluster munitions; (b) develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer cluster munitions; and (c) assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any activity prohibited under this convention.
The CCM is
among international arms control agreements in that, along with the
banning landmines through a very similar process, it has emerged out of
autonomous process which, while supported by the United Nations, was
initiated and brought about under UN aegis. In fact, it was the
discussions on the issue of cluster bombs during formal UN disarmament
22 out of 29 NATO countries including
Cluster munitions are large bombs dropped from the air or fired on by artillery guns on land, that contain within them hundreds of smaller bombs or sub-munitions called “bomblets” for air-dropped munitions or “grenades” in artillery shells (see the picture). Each of these sub-munitions explodes independently cumulatively causing enormous and often indiscriminate casualties over a very large area.
Cluster Bomb showing bomblets inside (from the Chile-Bolivia border)
Two main humanitarian problems have been associated with cluster bombs. First, because they are designed to cause such widely dispersed impact, they cause enormous civilian casualties when used near population centres. Second, given the hundreds and thousands of bomblets used, a substantial proportion of sub-munitions remain unexploded and act like mines, exploding unpredictably and causing death and injury even long after conflict situations have ended.
and injured thousands of civilians during the last several decades and
to do so even today. The UN estimates that 60 per cent of cluster bomb
casualties are injured while undertaking normal civilian activities,
of all recorded cluster munitions casualties are children. Cluster
believed to have caused more civilian casualties in
It was in
civilian casualties due to cluster bombs used in Lebanon by Israel
even the US State Department to investigate the use of US-made cluster
munitions. The classified report to Congress stated that
As we have
seen, many of
the major countries manufacturing and stockpiling cluster bombs have
the Convention on Cluster Munitions. In Asia, only 5 countries have
signed the treaty,
As usual in
countries opposing a ban cite national security as the main reason.
that have not
joined the ban prefer to pursue less stringent regulations and controls
amendments to the 1980 UN Convention on Convention Weapons and the
Trade Treaty which are currently being negotiated. The
provides for some exceptions. The treaty allows cluster munitions that
less than 10 sub-munitions each weighing more than 4 kg but less than
with capability to detect and engage a single target and containing
electronically timed and activated self-destruct and self-deactivation
But arguments by the
A common argument by US Defence Department spokespersons and armaments manufacturers is that future conflicts are likely to involve non-state actors who often use civilians as human shields for military targets, for example on the roof of a building. In such circumstances, they argue, a unitary weapon would cause more civilian casualties whereas precision cluster bombs could take out targets only on the roof.
The US Congress is currently considering a Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act (S 594) which prohibits use of cluster weapons in or near civilian areas and bars the manufacture, sale or transfer of cluster munitions with a failure rate above one per cent, that is only one in every hundred bomblets would be left unexploded. But there is widespread scepticism over the credibility of manufacturers regarding such claims.
Systems has developed an “advanced cluster weapon” with 40 individual
supposedly capable of destroying enemy tanks across a 30-acre swathe of
battlefield. This company, which actively sponsored much
reported that the US
Air Force has already bought 4,600 such bombs at a cost of several
So many big and important countries being non-signatories might make the CCM treaty appear hollow, but the reality is likely to be quite different. The Landmines treaty, too, was notoriously not signed by the USA, China, Israel, India and Pakistan, but all these nations face growing international pressure and opprobrium that has hugely reduced the use of landmines by these countries.
Campaigners say that evolving international norms have their own logic and exert considerable influence towards compliance by the US and other states. Once 120 to 150 countries sign on to a Treaty, however voluntary, it gradually acquires the force of customary international law. Public pressure in the US, including from the US Congress, has forced the US to scale back the use of cluster bombs by the US. The US not used cluster bombs anywhere since 2003 when it last used such weapons in Iraq while NATO has imposed a ban on cluster munitions in Afghanistan since 2007. The Landmine Treaty is another example and even Israel which did not sign that treaty has stopped using them.
On the eve of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Days, when the world renews its efforts work for the complete and universal elimination of nuclear weapons, it is well worth remembering that trying to bring about an international arms control agreement is an uphill task, difficult and frustratingly slow. But political will and determined activism can and do make things happen. The coming into force of the Treaty to ban cluster weapons is a time to remember this.