Cluster bombs are containers filed with smaller bombs (bomblets or submunitions) that are dropped from the air or fired from land or sea. They were first used in World War II and are now stockpiled by at least 76 states and have been used in at least 31 countries and disputed territories. Experts point to 210 different types of cluster munitions including projectiles, bombs, rockets, missiles, and dispensers. They open in midair and the bomblets then spread over a large area, sometimes the size of two to three football fields, killing or injuring those on the ground, regardless of whether they are combatants or civilians. Those bomblets that fail to explode on impact remain on the ground, like unexploded landmines, and are a continuing lethal threat to all living in the area. Billions of submunitions are now stockpiled and ready to be used by more than 70 countries.
In Vietnam, it is estimated that up to 300 people die annually from cluster bombs and other objects left by the US and South Vietnamese military forces. Locations affected by cluster bombs include: Afghanistan, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chad, Croatia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kosovo, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Montenegro, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Vietnam, and Western Sahara.
Unlike land mines, there is no international legal instrument that covers cluster bombs and some countries, including the U.S., consider them legitimate weapons. On May 28, 2008, over 111 nations meeting in Dublin completed negotiations on a new international treaty that commits their governments to stop using cluster bombs and to destroy their existing stockpiles within eight years. The agreement also calls for strong standards to protect those injured by them and to make sure that contaminated areas are cleaned up as quickly as possible and that the weapons are immediately destroyed. The United States did not attend the meeting. Other countries not signing the ban or attending the meeting were China, India, Israel, Pakistan and Russia â all users or producers of cluster bombs.
In December of 2008, countries will begin to sign the treaty negotiated in Dublin. A new president will have been elected in the U.S. and will undoubtedly be asked his opinion of that treaty. Support for legislation to limit cluster bombs will help ensure that his opinion is positive and hopefully lead to his agreeing to sign it after taking office.
Stop Cluster Munitions Coalition: http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/
Human Right sWatch: http://www.hrw.org/doc/?t=arms_clusterbombs
US Campaign to Ban Land Mines: http://www.banminesusa.org/