Should the U.S. support a ban on cluster bombs?

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2008

5 Pages, Grade: 1,3

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Should the United States support a ban on cluster bombs?

The U.S. administration may support the draft treaty on cluster munitions agreed to by 111 nations in Dublin on May 30, 2008 but it should not sign any treaty going in this direction.

On May 30, 111 nations have agreed to a draft treaty banning the production and use of cluster bombs and requiring the signatory nation to destroy their stockpiles within eight years.1 Among the participants are the U.S.’ most important ally Great Britain as well as Canada and most European nations. Opposing the treaty are the large powers Russia, China,

Israel, India, Pakistan and Brazil.2 Many UN officials like Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the adoption at the Dublin Diplomatic Conference which discussed and put the treaty into words.3 Now the U.S. drew a lot of criticism due to not participating the negotiations especially because it did not sign the land mine ban in 1997 either. Critics emphasize the U.S. being the largest producer and stockpiler and user of cluster munitions.4

After this general introduction to the issues a more precise analysis of the U.S. cluster bomb case will be delivered in the following order. At first I would like to distinguish between supporting and signing such a treaty. Then I will concentrate on the arguments of cluster bomb opponents. Third I will emphasize the exceptional U.S. role in using cluster munitions in armed contentions, its vast amount of aid to war struck people and the uselessness of this special treaty5.

First it is important to interpret this rather imprecise question. Supporting the ban or agreeing to sign it are different subjects that have to be treated here separate from each other. Signing the treaty would compel the U.S. to keep the agreement without the possibility to delay or modify it afterwards. Supporting the Dublin Treaty means the U.S. is in favor of an agreement of the participating nations without being part of it itself. Being a mere supporter provides the possibility to continue the cooperation with close allies and remaining the position of a strong military power. International treaties outlawing several kinds of crucial weapon systems would weaken this position. So Pentagon officials still refer to cluster munitions’ unparalleled effectiveness against enemy troop formations and armor.6

Cluster munitions have a large amount of opponents all over the world. There are the victims injured or maimed by ‘duds’ and the nations, which territory is contaminated. Nations, which used such weaponry, are also objecting this kind of warfare now. Finally NGOs like Human Rights Watch or Cluster Munition Coalition deal with emphasizing the humanitarian catastrophe cluster munitions cause. Their main argument is that civilian casualties are much higher than military ones after the use of cluster bombs.7 Cluster munitions are used against infrastructure and buildings as well as against light armed enemy vehicles and personnel spread over a certain area in difficult terrain. Although an effective way to battle enemy infantry and armored vehicles a failure rate of up to 40 percent of the submunition scattered in an area of about the size of several football fields is causing an inevitable human crisis among the inhabitants of the contaminated area. Mostly those people have to walk across or work in a contaminated terrain to earn their living. Even to a higher degree children fall a sacrifice to unexploded ordnance lying in their way. Their curiosity makes kids pick up can-shaped submunition. Sometimes they start playing with this deadly toy or this ‘bomblets’ led to the assumption they must have been part of a recent airdrop containing food. In general the number of civilian casualties is regarded as irresponsibly high in comparison to military successes and defeated enemy troops at that time. Human Rights Watch emphasized the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW)8 the U.S. signed among others to outlaw weapons which cause superfluous harm, unnecessary suffering and injury9.

The Department of State confirms its concern about the humanitarian impact of using cluster munitions and more general, of waging war and the humanitarian impact it has.10 As the mentioned treaties signed by the U.S. show, it is interested in turning the world into a more humane place although aware of the fact that military conflicts are inevitable. Critics say that humane and waging wars are contrary terms that cannot be used in one sentence together unless the speaker does not care about his own trustworthiness. Here one has to look at the unique and exceptional position of the U.S. As a large and important military and economical power it s allowed claiming that the use of force in a certain conflict is carefully considered before military is sent abroad. This strong position is only possible to be held if the U.S. has the appropriate weaponry, be it nuclear or conventional, in stock to meet occurring challenges. Especially when comparable superpowers like Russia or China are reluctant to sign the Dublin Treaty it would be a weakening to U.S. forces and deterrence capability if it abstained from using military unique and useful weaponry.11 This economical power, worth to protect, is also responsible that the U.S. has paid $1.2 billion to defuse land mines and clean up war zones. This amount of money exceeds any other nation’s effort.12

This responsible use of this kind of weapon is proofed by several facts: a) Since 2003 the U.S. has not used cluster bombs13, b) a large bombardment of the area covered by few cluster bombs with the same effect would excel civilian casualties, c) the Air Force is starting to used the more effective “smart” cluster bombs, which are able to be deployed directly on targeted ground troops. If they fail to hit the assigned target they are designed to destroy or disable themselves.14

The Dublin Treaty is useless due to an exception granted in the adopted version of the treaty. It allows members to “engage in military cooperation and operations” with a nation that did not sign the cluster bombs ban and “engages in activities prohibited”.15 In this special case –

dubbed ‘the American clause’ – a signatory nation is allowed to call for military assistance of a not participating nation, even if it uses cluster bombs to back the troops of the inquiring nation. A second exception can be noticed in the Dublin Treaty because the so-called smart cluster bombs are not included within this general ban.16 A shift to this new weapon, – likely to come – whether caused by the stigmatizing effect of the treaty or due to technical advances, would make such a treaty unnecessary, as the administrations stated earlier.17


1 The Washington Post: 111 nations, but not US, adopt cluster bomb treaty, May 30, 2008, (accessed on June 7, 2008).

2 The New York Times: Britain Joins a Draft Treaty on Cluster Munitions, May 29, 2008, (accessed on June 7, 2008).

3 UN News Centre: Ban ‘delighted’ at adoption of new cluster bomb convention, May 30, 2008, (accessed on June 6, 2008).

4 International Herald Tribune: Cluster bombs, made in America, June 1, 2008, (accessed on June 6, 2008).

5 The draft of the treaty adopted in Dublin and to be signed in December 2008 will be referred to as the ‘Dublin Treaty’ in this memo.

6 Air Force Times: U.S. refuses to join ban on cluster bombs, June 7, 2008, (accessed on June 7, 2008).

7 Cluster Munition Coalition: Groundbreaking treaty banning cluster bombs agreed, May 28, 2008, may-08.pdf (accessed on June 7, 2008).

8 ‘1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed To Be Excessively Injurious or To Have Indiscriminate Effects’.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

9 US Delegation Page: Text of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, (accessed on June 7, 2008). The CCW can be seen as an addition to the ‘Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague II)’ – convention signed in 1899 (so, signed by the U.S. about 80 years earlier!). In Section II – On Hostilities, Chapter 1 – On Means of Injuring the Enemy, Sieges and Bombardments, Article 23 quotes: “Besides the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially prohibited: […]To employ arms, projectiles, or material of a nature to cause superfluous injury; […].” Here you can draw a parallel to the human rights activist argument, the CCW forbids any weaponry that causes unnecessary injury and is therefore applicable to the issue of cluster munitions. In direct comparison, one can see that it uses almost the exact formulation the Hague Conference of 1899 uses. Cf.

10 U.S. Department of State: Cluster Munitions, documents on the United States position on cluster munitions, (accessed on June 7, 2008).

11 Air Force Times, June 7, 2008).

12 The International Herald Tribune, June 1, 2008.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 The Washington Post, May 30, 2008.

16 The International Herald Tribune, June 1, 2008.

17 Ibid.

5 of 5 pages


Should the U.S. support a ban on cluster bombs?
University of Heidelberg
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ban, cluster bombs, United States
Quote paper
Manuel Dominik Pollak (Author), 2008, Should the U.S. support a ban on cluster bombs?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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