Monday, June 02, 2008

What it Means to Be a World Leader.

Do you know what a cluster bomb is? It's a type of munition (typically dropped from an airplane) that ejects a bunch of smaller submunitions (or 'bomblets') before hitting the ground. The very first cluster bombs were created and used by Germany during World War II. At the same time the United States, Russia and Italy also developed their own versions. They are currently produced in 34 countries, and used by at least 23. When they are dropped, the resulting explosions within the 'target area' are small and scattered. Observers liken them to the effect caused by lighting an entire packet of firecrackers at once. Of course the damage wrought by each individual bomblet is magnitudes stronger than a firework.

Cluster bombs are commonly used against tanks, runways, electric power grids, and people. Their charges can be incendiary if the intention is to start wild and out-of-control fires. These were used in the WW II bombings of Dresden and Tokyo. The anti-personnel version employs fragmentation to do as much damage as possible to 'soft targets'. Millions of them were dropped on Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam during the 60's and 70's. Then there is the US Area Denial Artillery Munition- a weapon capable of dispersing numerous land mines that deploy their own trip-wire mechanisms. In fact the US has invented other particularly insidious cluster bombs, including a type that delivers chemical weapons.

The problem with this kind of bomb is twofold. For one thing- it is very non-specific in its aim, and is often responsible for horrible 'collateral damage'. A single cluster munition can affect an area as large as two or three American football fields. One anti-cluster organization (Handicap International) conducted a study that showed that 98% of over 13 thousand recorded casualties of this type of bomb were civilians. And unexploded ordnance has the potential of killing many, many more. Unfortunately cluster munitions have a relatively high 'dud' rate, ranging from 5-23% of the total charges. Despite efforts to color the bomblets in bright tones, they remain dangerous. Children often mistake them for toys. In Afghanistan the US compounded the problem by dropping airborne aid packets in identical colors.

So why am I choosing today to write about this subject? This past Thursday 110 nations meeting in Dublin, Ireland unanimously voted to ban these bombs. The United Kingdom trumped a promise they made last March to prohibit their own use of 'dumb' cluster munitions, and committed to abandoning their entire stockpile of all versions of these weapons. The international coalition dedicated to eliminating cluster munitions worldwide includes key NATO allies such as Germany, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Spain, and Belgium. This treaty went further than most observers expected- all existing supplies of these bombs must be destroyed within the next eight years. It is a truly historical agreement.

Unfortunately citizens of the United States need not celebrate this achievement. Along with similar malcontents like Russia and China, the US refused to even attend the meetings. Our government remains dedicated instead to the continued use of cluster bombs. The current administration feels that they play a crucial role in the nations' military arsenal, and contends that it would be endangering the security of the country if it were to go along with any such ban. They also claim that it would hinder military cooperation between the US and foreign states, as such joint operations with nations employing cluster munitions are discouraged under the new treaty. The current State Department has even threatened the curtailment of future humanitarian aid efforts. Truly we are a shining beacon to the rest of the world.

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Blogger Dagrims said...

Our refusal to attend the meeting and continue the use of these bombs leads me to think of a compound word that coincidentally also starts "cluster ----".

11:06 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

which term is (by the way) not coincidentally another invention of the military.

6:08 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Yes, sometimes SNAFU doesn't say it all.

8:31 PM  

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