Tuesday, July 31, 2007

EPIC Guest Blogger: Marla Bertagnolli on Cluster Bombs Beyond Combat

Marla Bertagnolli is Associate Director of Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), a nonprofit organization advocating on behalf of victims of armed conflict.

On a warm spring day in April 2003, a young Iraqi boy named Ali Mustafa was playing with his four brothers in their family’s garden. Ali bent down to pick up a shiny round object. A few seconds later, the object detonated, injuring Ali and his brothers.

Today, tens of thousands of unexploded ordnance litter farmland, schoolyards and roadways in an estimated 84 countries, posing a constant threat of death or serious injury to innocent civilians. Unexploded bombs, shells, landmines, grenades and missiles can take many years to find and clear -– killing and maiming hundreds, mostly children, in the meantime.

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.


Anonymous said...

How much would it cost to retool all those bombs? And who are we selling them to, in the first place?

Marla B said...

I have yet to see a number on 'how much' it would cost to retool them. However, if you consider that there are around 750million to 1billion bomblets, it gives you an idea of the magnitude.

The US does have the largest stockpile and does sell to several countries. Each country has their own secret dealings with the US on arms deals and the US does not release lists of whom we sell weapons to and what type of weapons we sell to them, here is a list of countries who have used the weapons: Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Israel, Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Sudan, United Kingdom, United States.

And here is a list of where they have been used: Afghanistan, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chad, Croatia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Montenegro, Russia (Chechnya), Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Yemen, Yugoslavia (including Kosovo), Vietnam and Western Sahara.

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