Hold-Out Countries Should Join New Cluster Munitions Treaty

By signing the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) at a ceremony in Oslo earlier this month, 94 countries took bold action to end the use of highly indiscriminate weapons that have maimed or killed tens of thousands of civilians. Meanwhile, a separate international effort that would set less restrictive limitations on cluster munitions may be near collapse. It is time for hold-out countries, especially the United States, to join the emerging international norm and commit to the CCM.

Initially designed for use against tank divisions and other mass troop movements, cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse small submunitions over broad areas. A global movement to virtually ban these weapons gained steam after Israel used highly inaccurate and failure-prone systems in southern Lebanon in 2006. The weapons injured hundreds of civilians during the attacks or afterwards, when they exploded after being disturbed from their resting place. Although they are supposed to detonate when they hit the ground or their target, by some estimates more than one million unexploded submunitions were left behind that summer.

A 2007 study by Handicap International found that, globally, approximately 400 million people live in areas impacted by cluster munitions. The treaty signed in Oslo bans the production and use of nearly all cluster munitions, sets timelines for stockpile destruction and clearance of impacted areas, and provides for greater assistance to victims.

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