Press Releases

Feinstein, Leahy Introduce Senate Bill to Restrict Use of Dangerous Cluster Munitions

Companion bill introduced in House by Congressman McGovern

‘Past time the United States takes action to protect civilians from these unreliable and deadly weapons’ - Senator Feinstein

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today introduced legislation to restrict the use and deployment of dangerous cluster munitions.

Cluster bombs are designed to come apart in the air before making contact, dispersing between 200 and 400 small bomblets that can saturate a radius of 250 yards. The bombs are intended for military use when attacking large-scale enemy troop formations, but are often used in or near populated areas. This is a problem because up to 40 percent of these bomblets fail to explode and become de facto landmines, posing a significant risk to civilians—particularly children— lasting years after a conflict ends.

“Cluster bombs with high rates of failure exact a terrible toll in human lives, and it’s past time the United States takes action to protect civilians from these unreliable and deadly weapons,” Senator Feinstein said. “Plans were made in 2008 to end the use, sale and transfer of cluster munitions with failure rates higher than 1 percent, but that rule won’t take effect until 2018. That’s simply too long to wait; every day of delay means more innocent lives are placed at risk.”

Senator Leahy, who has worked for years to protect civilians from cluster munitions and landmines, said: “Cluster munitions not only are scattered over wide areas causing indiscriminate, unintended casualties; they often fail to detonate as designed and remain active for years until some unsuspecting person, often a child, comes into contact with them and loses life or limb. Like any weapon, cluster munitions have some military utility, but this legislation is a long overdue step in protecting the innocent from these indiscriminate weapons. It is time for the Pentagon to work with us to pass this bill, and for the Obama Administration to review its policy and devise a plan to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions as soon as possible.”

The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act prevents any U.S. military funds from being used on cluster munitions with a failure rate of more than 1 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 requires the president to report to Congress on the plan to clean up unexploded cluster bombs, and includes a national security waiver allowing the president to waive the prohibition if he determines such a waiver is vital to national security.

“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. 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,” said Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), who introduced the House companion bill. Senator Feinstein’s bill has 21 Senate cosponsors.

Handicap International studied the effects of cluster bombs in 24 countries and regions, including Afghanistan, Chechnya, Laos, and Lebanon. Its report found civilians make up 98 percent of those killed or injured by cluster bombs, and 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 9 million 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.

The Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions, which has been signed by 108 countries, prohibits 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, which took effect August 2010.