Here Comes the Treaty to Ban Cluster Bombs

Here Comes the Treaty to Ban Cluster Bombs

Nearly 100 nations have reached an agreement on a draft treaty to ban the use of cluster bombs within 8 years. This may or may not be a good idea. But since key cluster bomb producers and users like the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan are not signatories, the importance of this treaty, beyond its symbolism, is questionable. Like the treaty to ban landmines, the vast majority of countries that will sign on to this treaty do not possess cluster bombs anyway. Hence, this is, for most countries, a costless decision and the use of landmines or cluster bombs is not substantially affected.



To be sure, for some countries, there are real costs to signing on. Britain had the most difficult decision, and it is a challenge for realists to explain why a country like Britain would give up a military weapon without gaining any concessions from most of its treaty partners. Moreover, the status of U.S. cluster bomb stockpiles in Britain are going to be legally problematic.

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Tobias Thienel


Moreover, the status of U.S. cluster bomb stockpiles in Britain are going to be legally problematic.

How so, if they are immune from British jurisdiction, as I’m fairly sure they are? Surely the UK is not bound by the treaty to do what it has no power to do, namely to remove cluster bombs from US installations on its territory?

Tobias Thienel

And another thing: Britain had the most difficult decision, and it is a challenge for realists to explain why a country like Britain would give up a military weapon without gaining any concessions from most of its treaty partners. I take it those realists would want to reject the idea that the UK might have signed up out of sheer fondness for international law? [I wouldn’t reject that idea out of hand, as it happens. The UK is more internationally minded than some might think. Witness its support for the ICC, as part of the Group of Like-Minded States at Rome.] Then why would the realists’ position not be satisfied by the simple point that the UK was moved to sign on by humanitarian considerations. Is it not realistic to note that people like to entertain such thoughts, not least for the warm and fuzzy feeling that may give them? Also, let’s not forget that cluster bombs raise serious practical problems, too. Unexploded bits of the things will have to be cleared at some point, especially if the army that originally fired them is later engaged in reconstruction work in the former enemy state. Not using the stuff in the… Read more »

P.S. O'Donnell
P.S. O'Donnell

Tobias,

Thanks once again for saying all the right things and raising all the right questions.

I thought the LA Times had a nice article on the subject today as well.

virgil xenophon
virgil xenophon

I love the logic. The U.K. allows atomic weapons on their soil under exclusive U.S. control but shudders at the thought of American stockpiles of CBU’s?

Tobias Thienel

virgil xenophon,

a) Why would it do the latter? See my first comment above.

b) The UK is a nuclear power itself. It may be fair to assume that it has no trouble with atomic weapons anyway.

Matthew Gross
Matthew Gross

I find it a little odd Europe (Let’s be honest, this is mainly Europe and a bunch of countries who can sign up at no cost to them) has decided to ban two of the most defensive weapons in their arsenals: cluster bombs and land mines.

Land mines are completely passive weaponry, and cluster bombs are frequently used for infrastructure attacks such as disabling runways and power plants without permanently destroying the structure.

P.S. O'Donnell
P.S. O'Donnell

Matthew,

Were it that you visited those civilians maimed and injured as well as the families of those killed by cluster bombs and land mines, the effects of which are inflicted on innocent human beings of all ages well past the conflicts in which they were used. I simply cannot fathom how you can label these “two of the most defensive weapons in their arsenals” unless you intend by that description some sort of Orwellian or euphemistic doublespeak (of a piece with their description as ‘area denial weapons’). The notion of “completely passive weaponry” is egregiously incoherent. Have you spent time reading the literature that documents the number of civilians needlessly injured and killed by such weapons? Even a small dose of empathy might serve you well in this instance.

Matthew Gross
Matthew Gross

Have you spent time reading the literature that documents the number of civilians needlessly injured and killed by such weapons?

Handicap International lists around 13,000 confirmed civilian deaths. Conventional bombs during WW2 managed far more than that, and most of those were simple explosive devices.

The whole thing smacks of sunken cost fallacy. Most of the areas plagued by cluster bombs either were bombed 30-40 years ago (Laos), or involved ancient munitions (Israel.) Banning modern self-destructing cluster bomblets is akin to banning a 2008 Jeep because the WW2 models flipped over too often.

Rather than banning or punishing the indiscriminate use of weapons, here we are banning the weapons themselves. As if mankind ever lacked methods to massacre innocents…

Even if the treaty had any effect (which it won’t, as few of the signatories even possess cluster bombs) it wouldn’t help the underlying problem of unexploded ordinance. You’d just have to drop more HE bombs to kill the same people you would have used a cluster bomb on. Then, the farmer a decade down the road would be blown up by a traditional HE bomb when he hits it with his plow, rather than a cluster munition.

P.S. O'Donnell
P.S. O'Donnell

The comparison to “conventional bombs during WW2” is irrelevant, especially in light of the fact that much of that bombing was unnecessary (Dresden, Nagasaki, Hiroshima,etc.). In any case, I’ve never thought two wrongs make for a right. Cluster bomblets are still too indiscriminate, as it is the nature of the weapon that is at issue, not its technological sophistication. (I have many good reasons not to buy a 2008 Jeep based on pass performance of the company’s vehicles, although the analogy is hardly plausible given the use for which cars are designed. There may be compelling ecological and economic reasons, in any case, for banning the production of many SUVs.) Banning the weapons themselves sends a message about indiscriminate use, which in any case falls under the heading of the conduct of war or Jus in Bello and international humanitarian law. Indeed, banning the weapons themselves in effect bans one of the methods that allows for or facilitates “indiscriminate use.” Modern weapons technology has immeasurably increased the ability of States to “massacre innocents,” and thus banning weapons representative of this technology says something about our collective will to protect such innocents. It’s not an all-or-nothing affair: today, landmines and cluster… Read more »

P.S. O'Donnell
P.S. O'Donnell

Lest I be misunderstood, the reference to technological sophistication in the first paragraph is relative to the particular weapon at issue, while the reference to modern weapons technology is absolute with regard to weaponry in general vis-a-vis its pre-modern counterparts (such as they were) or lack thereof.