Senator: “no excuse for continuing to use cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians”

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy on The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act

As printed in the Congressional Record on March 15, 2011

March 15, 2011

MR. LEAHY.  Mr. President, on March 10th, my friend from California, Senator Feinstein, and I introduced S. 558, the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2011.  It is identical to the bill that she and I introduced last year, and similar to those in prior years.

Cluster munitions, like any weapon, have some military utility.  But anyone who has seen the indiscriminate devastation cluster munitions cause over a wide area understands the unacceptable threat they 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 horrific 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.  In Laos today, people are still being killed and maimed by millions of U.S. cluster munitions left from the Vietnam War.  That legacy, resulting from years of secret bombing of a peaceful, agrarian people that posed no threat to the United States, contaminated more than a third of Laos’ agricultural land and cost countless innocent lives.  It is shameful that we have contributed less money in the past 35 years to clean up these deadly remnants of war than we spent in a few days of bombing.

Current law prohibits U.S. sales, exports and transfers of cluster munitions that have a failure rate exceeding 1 percent.  The law also requires any sale, export or transfer agreement to include a requirement that the cluster munitions will be used only against military targets.

The Pentagon continues to insist 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.  It has pledged to meet the 1 percent failure rate for U.S. use of cluster munitions in 2018.  But, like Senator Feinstein, I do not believe we can justify using antiquated 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 the 1 percent failure rate to U.S. use of cluster munitions beginning on the date of enactment. However, the bill permits 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.

Since December 3, 2008, when the Convention on Cluster Munitions opened for signature in Dublin, 108 countries have signed the treaty including Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Norway, Australia and other allies of the United States.  However, the Bush Administration did not participate in the negotiations that culminated in the treaty and the Obama Administration has not signed it.

Some have 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 meet the requirements of our bill, as well as the treaty.  What is lacking is the political will to expend the necessary resources.  There is no excuse for continuing to use cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

I urge the Obama Administration to review its policy on cluster munitions and put the U.S. on a path to join the treaty as soon as possible.  In the meantime, our legislation would be an important step in the right direction.

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

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