"Although the Department seeks to field a new generation of more highly reliable munitions, we cannot risk mission failure or accept the potential of increased military and civilian casualties by forfeiting the best available capabilities," according to the memo.
“The Pentagon confirmed today what we’ve long known: cluster munitions are not ‘highly reliable,’ but instead inaccurate weapons of terror,” says Jeff Meer, Executive Director of Handicap International in the U.S. “The implication should be obvious: the United States must immediately stop stockpiling these aging, inaccurate weapons. They’ve done the opposite by suggesting this weapon is somehow useful in combat. And to imply, as the Pentagon policy memo does, that the weapons are not necessarily a humanitarian hazard, is an outright and shameful lie.”
The memo later says that the U.S. will “retain cluster munitions currently in active inventories until the capabilities they provide are replaced with enhanced and more reliable munitions." What’s more, the U.S. can export cluster munitions, and the policy allows the U.S. to purchase cluster munitions abroad.
The June 2008 U.S. Department of Defense directive required that until 2018, any U.S. use of cluster munitions that results in a 1% or higher unexploded ordnance (UXO) rate must be approved by a “Combatant Commander,” a high-ranking US military official. After 2018, the directive said the U.S. would no longer use cluster munitions that result in more than 1% UXO. The new memo says the U.S. will not procure munitions with a fail rate above 1%, but it reserves the right for the military to use older, less effective munitions. The need for Combatant Commander approval remains in place.
Handicap International and other organizations have thoroughly documented the deadly, disabling effects of cluster munitions on civilians, including the especially deadly toll they take on unsuspecting children who often try to play with bomblets. Indeed, 98% of cluster munition victims are civilians.
“Stockpiles of cluster munitions, known for their inaccuracy and indiscriminate targeting, should be destroyed, because knowingly bombing civilians is a crime,” Meer adds.
As many as 30% (and sometimes 40%) of cluster munitions don’t detonate on impact. Indeed, bomblets that the U.S. Airforce dropped on communities in Laos more than 50 years ago continue to kill and maim civilians there to this day.
The last time the U.S. employed cluster munitions in battle was in 2009, but the country maintains a significant stockpile. In May 2016, the Obama Administration halted the sale of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi-led coalition was found to be using the weapon in Yemen, with devastating consequences on civilians. By August, the last U.S. company manufacturing cluster munitions, Rhode Island-based Textron, announced in a securities filing that it would halt production of its deadly sensor-fuzed weapon.
The international community has long-since recognized that cluster munitions are cruel weapons of war that should be banned. Already 119 States have stepped up to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions (Oslo Convention), which bans the use, production, trade, and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Among them, 102 countries are States Parties and 17 signatory States.
“The best position is simple: the U.S. should outright ban the use, sale, production and transfer of cluster munitions by joining the Oslo Convention,” Meer adds.
Yet the weapon remains in use globally. The 2017 Cluster Munition Monitor report, which Handicap International helps to coordinate, revealed a sharp rise in the number of new casualties of cluster munitions, which more than doubled between 2015 and 2016, from 419 in 2015 to 971 in 2016. Nearly all casualties are civilians.
Among the 2017 Monitor’s findings:
- In 2016, there were 971 casualties, vs. 419 in 2015.
- Cluster munitions have been in continuous use in Syria since mid-2012. The Syrian conflict alone accounted for 89% of the world’s cluster munition casualties in 2016, that is, 860 victims out of 971.
- The vast majority of new casualties (857) were injured or killed in cluster munition attacks, there were 114 casualties of submunition remnants in 2016. Up to 40% of these weapons do not explode on impact, and submunitions become as dangerous as anti-personnel mines and make entire areas uninhabitable. Half of such accidents reported in 2016 were in Laos (51 casualties), the world’s most heavily, submunitions-polluted country.
- Cluster bombs are weapons containing several hundred mini-bombs called cluster munitions. Designed to be scattered over large areas, they inevitably fall in civilian areas. Up to 30% (or even 40%) do not explode on impact. Like anti-personnel mines, they can be triggered at the slightest contact, killing and maiming people during and after conflicts. Indiscriminately affecting civilians and civilian property, cluster munitions violate international humanitarian law.
- The Convention on Cluster Munitions bans the use, production, transfer, stockpiling and sale of cluster munitions. It was opened for signature in December 2008.
- Earlier this year, Handicap International launched a global campaign to collect one million signatures to “stop bombing civilians.” The signatures will be presented to policy makers in September 2018, urging the international community to strongly condemn this practice and to bring it to an end.
- Images of unexploded cluster munitions from Handicap International demining teams are available upon request
- A range of videos explaining the scourge of cluster munition contamination in Laos can be found here.
Handicap International is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 35 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our action and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions, and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since it was founded in 1982, Handicap International has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. The network of eight national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States) works constantly to mobilize resources, jointly manage projects and to increase the impact of the organization’s principles and actions. Handicap International is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, and the winner of the Conrad N. Hilton Award in 2011. Handicap International takes action and campaigns in places where “living in dignity” is no easy task.