Press Releases

WASHINGTON (Friday, Sept. 7) – The Fiscal Year 2008 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill approved Thursday by the Senate includes a measure, sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would restrict the sale or transfer of cluster bombs. 

Senator Leahy chairs the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, and Senator Feinstein is also a leading member of the Appropriations Committee.  The legislation – the annual funding bill for the State Department and for U.S. foreign aid and foreign operations – was initially approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 29.  

Specifically, the spending bill requires that no military funds will be used for the sale or transfer or cluster bombs, unless:

  • The cluster bombs have a failure rate of 1 percent or less.
  • The sale or transfer agreement specifies that the cluster bombs will be used only against clearly defined military targets and not where civilians are known to be present.

“Sensible standards can greatly reduce the gruesome casualties these weapons needlessly inflict on innocent civilians,” said Senator Leahy, who long has led also on curbing the use of anti-personnel landmines.  “Congress is taking the lead with these sensible and workable steps to set reliability standards for cluster munitions that are transferred or sold, and to keep them from being used among civilians.  We hope the Administration will support this approach.  This can be the start of a process and an example that can be a model for other nations to follow.”
“The Senate today voted to approve a measure to help protect civilians from the dangers of cluster bombs,”
Senator Feinstein said. “These volatile relics of the Cold War have taken their lethal toll on civilian populations all over the world for too long – from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East.  It’s time to put an end to this needless death and suffering. And today’s vote by the Senate to restrict the sale or transfer of cluster bombs sends a message to the rest of the world that we’re ready to do our part to protect innocent men, women and children from these de facto landmines.”

Currently, the arsenal of the U.S. military contains 5.5 million cluster bombs, or 728 million bomblets – many of which have a failure rate of 1 percent or higher. 


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 and that children account for 27 percent of the casualties.

The senators said 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.

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