Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today led a group of lawmakers in introducing the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2015, which would restrict the use of dangerous cluster munitions.
In the Senate, the legislation is also co-sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) is introducing companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets or artillery shells that contain hundreds of smaller submunitions, which, when deployed, can leave behind unexploded ordnance. This unexploded ordnance can get buried in land, hidden from view or exist in plain sight and be mistaken as toys or even air-dropped assistance. They ultimately become harmful to civilians for generations.
More than 20 countries—such as Laos and Lebanon—remain contaminated by these cluster bombs and last year civilians in at least nine countries died from the weapons.
“Cluster munitions are highly dangerous and pose a far greater risk to civilians than military targets,” Feinstein said. “Unexploded ordnance left behind by cluster bombs become de facto landmines, often maiming or killing unsuspecting civilians. The use of cluster munitions with high rates of failure poses an unacceptable risk to innocent civilians.”
Feinstein continued: “U.S. policy regarding these dangerous weapons is woefully outdated. We can do better. As a global leader, the United States needs to be on the right side of history and stand firmly against the most harmful forms of these weapons.”
“This bill would help bring our defense policy in line with our values,” said Leahy. “Too often, cluster bombs are used in ways that kill and maim innocent victims of war, whose support is a key to the success of our troops. Our bill would strictly limit where these weapons are used and remove from our arsenal antiquated munitions with high failure rates that indiscriminately endanger civilians, years after they were used.”
“It is as urgent as ever that we rid the world of these weapons, which disproportionately impact civilians, especially children,” McGovern said. “I am honored to once again join Senator Feinstein and Senator Leahy in this effort."
To date, 88 nations have ratified the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions, a 2008 treaty that prohibits the production, stockpiling, sale or use of cluster munitions. The United States has not signed or ratified the treaty, and while this legislation would not bring the United States into compliance, it moves the country much closer to the growing international consensus against cluster weapons.
This bill builds on existing U.S. policies intended to restrict the use and sale of cluster munitions, and seeks to accelerate implementation of additional Department of Defense policies.
More specifically, the bill:
- Prohibits the U.S. military from using cluster munitions if greater than one percent of the weapon’s submunitions fail to explode and prohibits the use of the weapons in areas where civilians are present.
- Contains a presidential waiver allowing for the use of cluster munitions if it is vital to the security of the United States.
- Requires any use of cluster munitions to be accompanied by a clean-up plan for unexploded ordnances within 90 days.