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Tilting at Windmills

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May 28, 2008
By: dday

CLUSTER BOMB BREAKTHROUGH.... Gordon Brown hasn't had a great couple of months, but he showed some backbone today and greatly improved prospects for an international ban on cluster bombs.

In a major diplomatic defeat for the U.S., Britain broke ranks Wednesday and joined more than 100 nations in agreeing in principle to an international ban on cluster bombs, the small, insidious weapons that have killed thousands of civilians in the aftermath of battle.

Though the Bush administration has lobbied hard against the treaty and many U.S. and British officials consider cluster bombs valuable weapons, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown overruled elements of his own military and threw his support behind the prohibition. Brown's decision cleared the way for an agreement that supporters said would lead to the removal of cluster munitions from arsenals around the world.

Most interestingly, the convention not only prohibits the use and stockpiling of cluster bombs among signatories, but it calls on any nation conducting joint military operations with a non-signatory to "actively discourage use of the weapons." With Britain on board, that will have an impact on the United States regardless of what a future President and Congress do with the treaty (for example, these have been used in Iraq).

Cluster bombs are a truly hideous by-product of modern warfare, canisters that open upon ejection and pour a series of "bomblets" across a wide area that are meant to explode on impact. However, up to 25 percent do not, creating minefields that kill hundreds or even thousands of civilians wherever they are deployed.

But while a ban on these weapons would be a major human rights victory, it is more reflective of the waning credibility of the United States under Bush. It would have been unthinkable a few years ago for a stalwart ally like Great Britain to break with the US on a diplomatic issue such as this. But Brown is in trouble domestically, and may have seen such a split as a political cure-all. It's not only McCain who wants to show his independence from Bush. Moreover, here is the United States, on the wrong side of a human rights issue YET AGAIN, lining up with China and Russia and using technicalities like "China and Russia don't support it, so we won't" to justify their behavior. Which is essentially saying that "We don't think this effort will succeed until you bring users of the weapons, like us, to the table."

How many foreign policy failures from this Administration can you name off the top of your head? Because you can add this one.

dday 9:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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Comments

Important Fact: Hillary Clinton voted against banning cluster bombs. Barack Obama voted to ban them. You decide who the progressive is....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 28, 2008 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

"With Britain on board, that will have an impact on the United States regardless of what a future President and Congress do with the treaty (for example, these have been used in Iraq)."

It will? Since when has the US listened to its allies, even when doing so was in its own interests?
Wasn't this one of the arguments regarding Britain's involvement in Iraq---they have all this experience in Northern Ireland that the US can learn from---how'd that work out?

Working with the US is like working with Microsoft. Whether you're some low-level flunky in Vietnam or Iraq, or whether you're the UK government, both ways you're going to be tossed overboard as soon as the US feels that's the most convenient thing to do.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on May 28, 2008 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

The Bush Administration LOVES cluster bombs. In fact, Secretary of Defense Gates sold cluster bombs to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. [Scroll down to paragraph 8]

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 28, 2008 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

Our leaders continue to show the willful and persistent stupidity of spoiled children. They want to always have their way, more so when someone they don't like (foreigners) wants them to do something else, and throw an even bigger tantrum when someone tells them it would be good for them.


Posted by: Midland on May 28, 2008 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

As I read the story, it's basically another example of the familiar rule of international law: if Israel does it, it must be illegal. Talk about a country with foreign policy failures!

Posted by: y81 on May 28, 2008 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

Cluster bombs are barbaric. Why do we use them when we have modern thermonuclear devices?

Posted by: Luther on May 28, 2008 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

What do you have against warfare?? Why do you hate the troops so much???

Too bad there's no law against clusterfucks like Iraq.

Posted by: Anon on May 28, 2008 at 11:41 PM | PERMALINK

The U.S. is sensitive to world opinion. Since the end of the Vietnam War, I am not aware that we have used napalm anywhere. Fuel-air explosives (the higher tech less photo friendly follow on) yes, but not napalm.

Posted by: fafner1 on May 29, 2008 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, please also mention the tragic, absurd similarity between air-dropped food aid and unexploded cluster bombs:

A key United Nations clearance expert has expressed concern about the similarity of the coloring of the yellow BLU-97/B cluster bomblets and the small yellow food aid parcels being airdropped in Afghanistan, noting that people are being encouraged to pick up the food parcels, but that picking up a bomblet would be lethal. He said, "Our experience in Kosovo showed us that children and youths were highly susceptible to the submunitions. It is highly likely that many in Afghanistan will not know the difference between aerially delivered food aid and aerially delivered munitions." BBC Worldwide Monitoring reported that U.S. Psychological Operations units broadcast a radio message warning Afghan civilians of the similar yellow color of the cluster bomblets and the food packages, noting that cluster bombs will not be dropped in areas where food is air-dropped but stating, "[W]e do not wish to see an innocent civilian mistake the bombs for food bags and take it away believing that it might contain food."

http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/arms/cluster-bck1031.htm

Posted by: anonymous on May 29, 2008 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

fafner1: That is because we use "White Phosphorus."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_phosphorus_(weapon)

Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Venable confirmed to the BBC that WP had been used as an antipersonnel weapon, and was quoted as stating: "It has been used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants".[8] In particular,

Venable pointed out that WP was effective against enemy forces in covered positions that were protected from high explosives. "One technique is to fire a white phosphorus round into the position because the combined effects of the fire and smoke - and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground - will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives.[6]

Posted by: anonymous on May 29, 2008 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, it's regrettable that Clinton was on the wrong side of this legislation, but in fairness, it's not just her. We haven't exactly showered ourselves in glory on this one, having done the bare minimum to be considered a signatory to the CCW by going along with only 2 of the 5 Protocols: I & II, which deal with fragmentation weapons & some landmines. We get a little squeamish, though, when it comes to incendiary weapons (e.g., napalm, chlorine trifluoride,..., etc.), blinding laser weapons, & the other kinds of landmines that aren't covered under Protocol II. Nor have we signed on to the Ottawa Treaty. But, hey, fafner1's right -- we haven't used napalm since Vietnam. Bully for us.

Posted by: junebug on May 29, 2008 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, bringing democracy and freedom to oppressed peoples is hard work!

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on May 29, 2008 at 12:58 AM | PERMALINK

Israel covered Lebanon with American gifted cluster bombs just about two years ago.

Posted by: Brojo on May 29, 2008 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

"But, hey, fafner1's right -- we haven't used napalm since Vietnam. Bully for us."

I imagine that the fact that we haven't fought a war in jungle since then has nothing to do with this fact. I expect there are commanders in desert and urban environments just frothing over the cool things they could do with napalm.

As is so often the case, sadly even when America appears to be behaving morally, there is less there than meets the eye.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on May 29, 2008 at 2:09 AM | PERMALINK

fafner1: "Since the end of the Vietnam War, I am not aware that we have used napalm anywhere."

Actually, at least 30 napalm bombs were dropped in 2003 in Iraq. They just switched the mixture to a kerosene base, and don't officially call it napalm any longer.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on May 29, 2008 at 5:18 AM | PERMALINK

From Bruce's link: "Instead of the gasoline and the benzene fuel used in napalm, MK-77 use kerosene-based fuel, which has a lower concentration of benzene. The Pentagon has claimed that the MK-77 has less impact on the environment than napalm."

Words fail me.

Posted by: ajay on May 29, 2008 at 5:28 AM | PERMALINK

The banning of sub-munitions (cluster bomb is a propaganda term)eliminate the U.S. Army MLRS and ATAMCS missile systems. It also eliminate most of the rounds fired by the 155mm cannon.

The reasons that places like China, Serbia, and Iran want to eliminate sub-munitions is that they are very effective can be fired from longer distances, and are hard for a county without precision manufacturing to reproduce. Sub-munitions benefit a country with a numerically smaller military because fewer rounds are needed for each mission and they are more effective.

Posted by: superdestroyer on May 29, 2008 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

cluster bomb is a propaganda term

Wrong, it's a commonly used term. US cluster bombs are designated with names like CBU-97; the CBU stands for Cluster Bomb Unit.

would eliminate the U.S. Army MLRS and ATAMCS missile systems

Wrong, both are being upgraded to use guided unitary rounds (ie one big warhead, not lots of little bomblets) as the result of an Urgent Need Statement - turns out what the troops really need now is not the ability to kill everything in a grid square, but the ability to put one warhead accurately on one compound.

It also eliminate most of the rounds fired by the 155mm cannon.

Also wrong! The standard M109 HE and Copperhead guided rounds would still be OK, as would, presumably, smoke, WP and illum rounds.

The reasons that places like China, Serbia, and Iran want to eliminate sub-munitions is that they are very effective,

See above - unguided mass destruction doesn't seem to be as popular as it once was, thank God

can be fired from longer distances

Not true - the longest-range artillery shells are things like rocket-assisted projectiles, which aren't cluster munitions. A normal cluster shell goes no further than a normal unitary shell. Why shouldn't it?

Sub-munitions benefit a country with a numerically smaller military because fewer rounds are needed for each mission and they are more effective.

The number of rounds you can put on target depends on the number of tubes (or airframes) you have and their cycle rate, not on the overall size of your army. This is a rather silly statement.

Posted by: ajay on May 29, 2008 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Our opposition to the Ottawa Convention (landmines) did not stop the UK from signing.

They did, however, attach this rider, which they could do just as easily again:

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern
Ireland1
Declaration:
"It is the understanding of the Government of the United Kingdom that the
mere participation in the planning or execution of operations, exercises or
other military activity by the United Kingdom's Armed Forces, or individual
United Kingdom nationals, conducted in combination with the armed forces of
States not party to the [said Convention], which engage in activity prohibited
under that Convention, is not, by itself, assistance, encouragement or
inducement for the purposes of Article 1, paragraph (c) of the Convention."

Posted by: a on May 29, 2008 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

The Conservative Deflator: Hillary Clinton voted against banning cluster bombs. Barack Obama voted to ban them.

No, that vote was about restricting the use of cluster bombs to areas where they're more likely to kill or injure civilians in the aftermath. As such, Clinton's vote is even less defensible.

Posted by: alex on May 29, 2008 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Oops, I meant "less likely". You get the point.

Posted by: alex on May 29, 2008 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

ajay,

that you do not understand military logistics seems to undermine your argument. Sub-munitions were designed for NATO/US to overcome the numeric superiority of the Warsaw Pact. If 12 MLRS rockets had destroy an entire armored battalion from a distance of 15+ kilometers, that means one vehicle and three people can overcome hundreds. If the U.S. does away with sub-munitions, then the U.S. is required to fire more HE rounds to achieve the same effect. That is why countries like Serbia, Iran, and Russia would love for sub-munitions to be banned.

Firing one round to hit one compound may be an urgent need in the current conflict but if that target is moving, then one, large warhead is not very effective.

Also, The MLRS and ATAMCS will be much less effective in conventional war is HE warheads only.

P.S. I believe that copperhead was barely used in the first gulf war and not used at all in the second.

Posted by: superdestroyer on May 29, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

that you do not understand military logistics seems to undermine your argument. Sub-munitions were designed for NATO/US to overcome the numeric superiority of the Warsaw Pact.

Good point; without cluster munitions, we might find it difficult to defend West Germany against the Warsaw Pact.

No, wait. That's an really stupid point.

That is why countries like Serbia, Iran, and Russia would love for sub-munitions to be banned.

...and were many Serb tanks destroyed by cluster bombs in 1999? No. Your logic would mean that Serbia should be calling for PGMs to be banned, not cluster bombs.

You're also ignoring the fact that Russia has plenty of cluster munitions of its own...

Posted by: ajay on May 29, 2008 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

You know, the Union artillery brigades at Gettysburg used a form of cluster bomb to decimate the charging Rebs. They fired shells over the heads of the Rebs that exploded in the air so that more people would be killed and maimed. Whole swaths of charging troops were wiped out with each overhead explosion.

The Union artillerymen made the shells explode in the air by using a short fuse that burned quickly, before the shell went its full distance. The phrase "short fuse" entered our vocabulary from this experience. Saying someone has a "short fuse" describes a person who angers quickly.

What can we call George Bush's reaction to the cluster bomb treaty that will have a permanent impact on our language?

Posted by: pj in jesusland on May 29, 2008 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

"...turns out what the troops really need now is not the ability to kill everything in a grid square, but the ability to put one warhead accurately on one compound."
_____________________

That's our usual method in Iraq and Afghanistan - when the target can be localized and we need to limit collateral damage. It isn't always so, however, especially in the Hindu Kush. An area weapon against scattered enemy troops on a remote mountainside is often preferrable, not to mention much more effective, than any number of individual bombs. Of course, we dare not "carpet bomb," either, one supposes.

Lest we forget, the large numbers of generals and flag officers who were publicly in favor of a ban on landmines almost unanimously based their support for the ban on the premise that we had other technical means to deal with area targets. Guess what those "other technical means" included.

Seems some people won't be satisfied until the Army is forced to fight with pikes and the Air Force is limited to dropping sharp notes from balloons.

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