Monday, February 18, 2008

Guess Who is Opposing Ban on Cluster Bombs?

With delegates from more than 120 national governments meeting in New Zealand to discuss a world ban on the use of cluster bombs, Britain, the US, China and Russia are all opposing the idea. The latter three are not even attending.

New Zealand Defense Minister Phil Goff opened the 5-day conference by informing delegates that its aim was "to build agreement among a sufficient mass of countries, including those who possess cluster munitions, to form a legally binding treaty to stop unacceptable harm to civilians."

Figures for the percentage of mini-bomblets contained within a typical cluster bomb that fail to detonate on impact are, not surprisingly, heavily disputed. While the MOD figure is 6%, Landmine Action places the total between 7-11%, based on the failure rate of cluster bomblets in the Kosovo campaign of 1999.

With some types of cluster bomb containing bomblets (technically sub-munitions) that are brightly coloured, they are about the size of a soft drink can and have proven a particular danger to children.

Unicef estimates that about 1000 children in Iraq have been injured or killed by such munitions since the 2003 war, the sub-munitions remaining live for months or years after their initial deployment. After the first Gulf War, there were over 1,600 deaths or injuries to Kuwaiti citizens from unexploded cluster bomblets used in that country to drive out Iraqi forces.

The following table indicates the number of cluster bombs used in Iraq by American and British forces since 2003. Figures are in the public domain and are from the British Ministery of Defence and the US Pentagon.



Number of bomblets (sub-munitions)



RBL 755 (arial delivery)


147 per bomb (=9702)


Not stated

L20 Cluster Shells


49 per shell (=102, 802)

Royal Artillery




202 per missile (=165,236)


Not stated



202 per missile (=17776)


Not stated



202 per missile (=1212)



China, Russia and the United States - the main producers of cluster bombs - are not participating in the Wellington Conference either directly or by sending observers. Meanwhile, France, Germany, Japan and the UK have been tabling motions to restrict the terms of any agreement reached at the conference - including excluding certain weapons from a ban, allowing their use in conflicts with countries which do not sign the treaty and building in a transition period before any ban becomes law.

Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch responded: "The treaty must not be weakened to pander to the interests of users, producers and stockpilers."

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