The most common and arguably the most threatening of these is cluster munitions. Large canisters, each containing hundreds of cluster bomblets, disperse rapidly over an extremely wide area. Up to 40% fail to explode on impact and leave hundreds or thousands of sensitive bombs on the ground where civilians -– such as Ali and his brothers –- can accidentally detonate them in the course of their daily lives.
But there is hope. With advanced technology, communications systems and precision weapons, the threat to civilians can and should be limited significantly.
Many countries are calling for complete bans on these weapons. Though the U.S. will likely not sign onto that ban, Congress is currently considering legislation addressing cluster munitions. The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2007 (S. 594/H.R. 1755 I.H.), initially introduced in the Senate on February 14, 2007, limits the use, transfer and sale of cluster munitions and is intended to lower the threat to civilians in conflict. The Senate Appropriations committee has also inserted a portion of the CMCPA language into the fiscal year 2008 round of appropriations. Word from the Capitol is, they are testing the waters to gauge support for the issue. By fall, we should know where the chips lie. You can help by taking action through CIVIC’s website to tell your Senator to cosponsor the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act.
The pushback against this legislation comes in part from the defense industry. According to information received by Human Rights Watch, the U.S. inventory alone contains more than one billion individual submunitions, including more than forty different types of air and surface-delivered cluster bombs. Under the CMCPA, before these weapons could be considered for sale, export or transfer, each would need to be retrofitted with self-destruct devices in order to significantly decrease the current dud rate. This poses a huge financial and operational headache for those dealing with U.S. weapon systems.
In a world where warfare is increasingly fought in populated areas, there simply is no place for weapons that indiscriminately destroy lives. Legislation limiting cluster bomb sale and use is an important part of the evolution of the protection of civilians in armed conflict. It is a marked change in U.S. policy and will, if passed, protect civilians — particularly children –- from extreme harm.
And that is something we can all agree on.