Restrict Use Of Dangerous Cluster Munitions

Senators Leahy And Feinstein Introduce Measure To Restrict Use Of Dangerous Cluster Munitions.
Companion legislation introduced in House by Representative McGovern

Washington, D.C. –
U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Feb. 11, introduced a measure to restrict the use or deployment of dangerous cluster munitions.

“The human toll of cluster bombs is terrible. But the United States has been slow to take action to protect civilians from these unreliable and deadly weapons,” Senator Feinstein said. “Last year, Defense Secretary Gates unveiled new plans to prohibit the use, sale and transfer of cluster munitions with a failure rate of more than 1 percent – but he set a 2018 deadline. I believe that another decade of delay is too long to wait. In my view, our military forces should never use cluster munitions with high failure rates in any area where civilians are known to be present – and this legislation will ensure that this policy becomes law this year. Further delay only puts more innocent lives at risk and runs counter to America’s core values.”

Senator Leahy, who has worked for years to protect civilians from cluster munitions, said: “Anyone who has seen the devastation cluster munitions cause over wide areas understands the unacceptable harm they cause to civilians. Any weapon, whether cluster munitions, landmines, or even poison gas, has some military utility, but this is an important step to protect the innocent from these indiscriminate weapons. I urge the Pentagon to work with us by supporting this bill, and I urge the Obama Administration to review its policy with a view toward putting the United States on a path to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions as soon as possible.”

Specifically, the Feinstein-Leahy measure would prevent any U.S. military funds from being spent to use or deploy cluster munitions:

that have a failure rate of more than one percent, unless the rules of engagement specify:

* the cluster munitions will only be used against clearly defined military targets and;
* will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.

The bill also requires the President to submit a report to the appropriate Congressional committees on the plan to clean up unexploded cluster bombs.

Finally, the bill includes a national security waiver that allows the President to waive the prohibition on the use of cluster bombs with a failure rate of more than one percent, if he determines it is vital to protect the security of the United States to do so.

The Senate measure is also sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Companion legislation was introduced in the House today by Representative James McGovern (D-Mass.).

“I believe strongly that the United States can and should be an international leader in ending the terrible toll on civilian populations caused by the high failure rate of these weapons,” Rep. McGovern said. “Passage of this legislation would establish in law the Pentagon’s standard of a 99 percent functioning rate for all U.S. cluster munitions, and ensure our stockpile, export, use and procurement of cluster munitions adhered uniformly to that standard. There will always be those who will argue against such a change in military policy and practice, who will say this can’t be done. History argues otherwise. We can, and we must.”

In 2007, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law a provision in the FY 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act sponsored by Senators Leahy and Feinstein that prohibited the sale and transfer of cluster bombs with a failure rate of more than one percent.

More recently, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2009 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations bill renewing the ban on the sale or transfer for another year.


Cluster bombs are designed to come apart in the air before making contact, dispersing between 200 and 400 small bomblets that can saturate a wide radius of 250 yards. They are intended for military use when attacking large-scale enemy troop formations. However, in practice, cluster bombs have increasingly been used in or near populated areas.

Handicap International studied the effects of cluster bombs in 24 countries and regions, including Afghanistan, Chechnya, Laos, and Lebanon. Its report found that civilians make up 98 percent of those killed or injured by cluster bombs. 27 percent of the casualties are children.

The civilian toll has been staggering:

* Combining the first and second Gulf Wars, the total number of unexploded bomblets in the region is approximately 1.2 million. An estimated 1,220 Kuwaitis and 400 Iraqi civilians have been killed since 1991.

* In Iraq in 2003, 13,000 cluster bombs with nearly 2 million bomblets were used.

* In Afghanistan in 2001, 1,228 cluster bombs with 248,056 bomblets were used. Between October 2001 and November 2002, 127 civilians were killed, 70 percent of them under the age of 18.

* Between nine and 27 million unexploded cluster bombs remain in Laos from U.S. bombing campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s. Approximately 11,000 people, 30 percent of them children, have been killed or injured since the war ended.

* Most recently, it is estimated that Israel dropped 4 million bomblets in southern Lebanon, and 1 million of these bomblets failed to explode. And reports indicate that Hezbollah retaliated with cluster bomb strikes of their own.

In December 2008, 94 nations formally signed the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions which would prohibit the production, use, and export of cluster bombs and requires signatories to eliminate their arsenals within eight years. The Bush Administration refused to sign the treaty.

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act
Senate Floor
February 11, 2009

MR. LEAHY. I am pleased to join with my friend from California, Senator Feinstein, in introducing the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2009. This is a slightly revised version of a bill of the same name which we introduced in 2007.

Since December 3, 2008, when the Convention on Cluster Munitions opened for signature in Dublin, 96 countries have signed the treaty including Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Norway, Australia and other allies of the United States.

The treaty is the culmination of a year of negotiations, launched by Norway, among 107 governments that came together to prohibit the use of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

The Bush Administration did not participate in the negotiations, which I believe was a mistake. As the nation with the world’s most powerful military we should not be on the sidelines while others are trying to protect the lives and limbs of civilians who comprise the vast majority of war casualties today.

The Pentagon continues to insist that cluster munitions have military utility, and that the U.S. should retain the ability to use millions of cluster munitions in its arsenal which have estimated failure rates of 5 to 20 percent.

Of course, any weapon, whether cluster munitions, landmines, or even poison gas, has some military utility. But anyone who has seen the indiscriminate devastation cluster munitions cause over a wide area understands the unacceptable threat they can pose to civilians. These are not the laser guided weapons the Pentagon showed destroying their targets during the invasion of Baghdad.

And there is the insidious problem of cluster munitions that fail to explode as designed and remain as active duds, like landmines, until they are triggered by whoever comes into contact with them. Often it is an unsuspecting child, or a farmer. We saw that recently in Lebanon, and in Laos people are still being killed and maimed by U.S. cluster munitions left from the Vietnam War.

Current law prohibits U.S. sales, exports and transfers of cluster munitions that have a failure rate exceeding 1 percent. That law also requires any sale, export or transfer agreement to include a requirement that the cluster munitions will be used only against military targets and not in areas where civilians are known to be present.

Last year, the Pentagon announced that it would meet the failure rate requirement for U.S. use of cluster munitions in 2018. While a step forward, I do not believe we can justify continuing to use weapons that so often fail, so often kill and injure civilians, and which many of our allies have renounced. That is not the kind of leadership the world needs and expects from the United States.

Senator Feinstein’s and my bill would apply similar restrictions to the use of cluster munitions beginning immediately on the date of enactment. However, the bill does permit the President to waive the 1 percent requirement if he certifies that it is vital to protect the security of the United States. I urge the Pentagon to work with us by supporting this reasonable step.

I want to express my appreciation to all nations that have signed the treaty, and urge the Obama Administration to review its policy on cluster munitions with a view toward putting the U.S. on a path to join the treaty as soon as possible. In the meantime, our legislation would go a long way toward putting the United States on that path.

There are some who dismissed the Cluster Munitions Convention as a pointless exercise, since it does not yet have the support of the United States and other major powers such as Russia, China, Pakistan, India and Israel. These are some of the same critics of the Ottawa treaty banning antipersonnel landmines, which the U.S. and the other countries I named have also refused to sign. But that treaty has dramatically reduced the number of landmines produced, used, sold and stockpiled, and the number of mine victims has fallen sharply. Any government that contemplates using landmines today does so knowing that it will be condemned by the international community. I suspect it is only a matter of time before the same is true for cluster munitions.

It is important to note that the U.S. today has the technological ability to produce cluster munitions that would not be prohibited by the treaty. What is lacking is the political will to expend the necessary resources. There is no other excuse for continuing to use cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. I am committed to working in the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to help secure the resources needed to make this new technology available.

I want to commend Senator Feinstein who has shown real passion and persistence in raising this issue and seeking every opportunity to protect civilians from these indiscriminate weapons.

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