Press Releases

Senators Feinstein and Leahy Introduce Measure to Restrict Use of Dangerous Cluster Munitions

- Companion legislation introduced in House by Representative McGovern -

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today 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.