Treaty Likely to Set International Standard Against Use of Cluster Munitions

Treaty Likely to Set International Standard Against Use of Cluster Munitions

On May 30, more than 100 countries meeting in Dublin agreed to the text of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which promises to vastly limit the use of weapons that have led to humanitarian suffering for decades. Spurred on by a February 2007 meeting hosted by Norway, the "Oslo" process has moved remarkably quickly to reach a consensus on dealing with bombs, rockets and artillery shells that disperse submunitions over large areas. These "bomblets" often fail to explode at first and later injure noncombatants, including children attracted to what look like golf balls or ribboned cans.

Despite the agreement, short-term changes in U.S. military policy are highly unlikely, especially after compromise provisions were inserted into the final text. Over time, however, the convention should establish a norm that will limit U.S. and global behavior, just as Oslo's inspirational parent, the Ottawa Convention, has stigmatized the use of anti-personnel landmines.

Cluster munitions date back to at least 1943, when Soviet and German forces air-dropped them in World War II. The United States, today believed to possess a stockpile of 700 million to 1 billion submunitions, used the weapons in the 1960s and 1970s in Southeast Asia, leaving an estimated 20 million unexploded bomblets in Laos alone at the end of the war there. Most recently, Israel fired cluster munitions into Lebanon during hostilities in the summer of 2006, with perhaps 1 million submunitions failing to explode initially. Hezbollah reportedly fired other cluster munitions into Northern Israel that same year.

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