Washington—U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today introduced the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act, a bill to restrict the use and deployment of dangerous cluster munitions. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. Fifteen Senators, in addition to Senators Feinstein and Leahy, have cosponsored the bill.
Cluster bombs are canisters designed to open in the air before making contact, dispersing between 200 and 400 small munitions that can saturate a radius of 250 yards. The bombs are intended for military use when attacking 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.
“Unexploded cluster bombs become de facto landmines and pose an unacceptable risk to innocent civilians,” said Senator Feinstein. “The current Pentagon policy allows for the use of cluster bombs with high failure rates until 2018—we must do better. This bill speeds up implementation of the policy and provides a national security waiver. It is a commonsense measure that will help save civilian lives and improve the image of the United States abroad.”
“This bill would help bring U.S. policy in line with our values,” said Senator Leahy. “Too often, cluster bombs are used in ways that kill and maim civilians whose support is key to the success of our Armed Forces. This bill would limit where such weapons are used and remove from our arsenal antiquated munitions that indiscriminately endanger civilians for years.”
“We must do everything possible to spare innocent civilians from weapons intended for military targets,” said Rep. McGovern. “Cluster bombs pose an unacceptable risk to those innocents. I'm hopeful that we can make significant progress on this issue this year.”
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 that 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 munitions, and includes a national security waiver allowing the president to waive the prohibition if he determines such a waiver is vital to national security.
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 111 countries and ratified by 77—prohibits the production, use, and export of cluster munitions and requires signatories to eliminate their arsenals within eight years. To date, the United States has not signed the treaty.