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Debate: Cluster bomb ban

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Is an international ban on cluster bombs justified? Was the US wrong to reject it?

Background and context

Cluster bombs were first used in World War II by German and Soviet forces.
During the 1970s, the USA used massive numbers of cluster bombs in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. More recently, cluster bombs were used extensively in the Gulf War, Chechnya, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and in Lebanon in 2006. Calls for banning them have emerged strongly in recent years, and an international treaty to ban them was passed in May of 2008. Over one-hundred countries have signed the treaty. The United States and other countries that produce and utilize cluster bombs have not signed the treaty. While proponents of the ban argue that cluster bombs are too indiscriminate in their destructive force and costly to civilians post-conflict (due to "duds" that become, effectively, landmines), opponents of the ban argue that cluster bombs are an essential element of modern warfare strategies.

Contents

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Human rights: Do cluster munition pose unacceptable harm to civilians?

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Yes

  • Cluster bombs inherently inaccurate, kill indiscriminate Kathleen Peratis. "Back Bill To Ban Cluster Bombs". The Jewish Daily Forward. 23 Mar 2007 - "cluster bombs, like landmines, kill indiscriminately, and therefore they should be banned. This is how they work: A single cluster bomb spews dozens or hundreds of smaller sub-munitions, called bomblets, over a wide 'footprint.' The bomblets are designed to explode on impact and to destroy broad targets, such as massed armor and infantry formations." Because of the weapon's broad area of effect, they have often been documented as striking both civilian and military objects in the target area. This characteristic of the weapon is particularly problematic for civilians when cluster munitions are used in or near populated areas and has been documented by research reports from groups such as Human Rights Watch.[2] Further compounding this problem is that, according to Handicap International, only 15 percent of the bombs reach their objectives.[3]
  • Dud rates in cluster bombs are far too high. Cluster bombs are a threat in so far as the little bomblets become defacto landmines when they fail to explode on impact. Instead, they sit in waiting for a civilian or soldier to step on them or pick them up, whereupon they explode.
  • Demeaning cluster bombs is dangerous, costs lives The Boston Globe reported, "One of the first casualties of the war on terrorism was the killing of four United Nations demining workers in early October and the total disruption of demining work. 'We have lost 30 workers in the last decade on minefields, but this is the first time we have lost people in the office,' said Syed Ahmad Farid Elmi, acting director of the demining team. More than 1,000 demining workers were put on "mandatory unpaid leave once it appeared that the United States might retaliate in Afghanistan."[4]
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No

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Military value: Do cluster bombs have little or significant military value?

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Yes

  • Banning class of weapons never undermines state security Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer to the U.N. offices in Geneva, said in May 2008, "experience shows us how the prohibition of certain categories of arms in a good faith negotiation with international organizations has never placed states' national security in danger."[5]
  • Over-armament with cluster bombs is threat to peace Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer to the U.N. offices in Geneva, "The true danger is owed more to 'over-armament' and the fact of trusting only in arms for assuring national and international security."[6]
  • Cluster bombs kill soldiers of militaries deploying them Dick Devlin. "Ban these bombs that kill indiscriminately". 12 July 2008] - "when U.S. soldiers stumbled upon tens of thousands of dud U.S. submunitions in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Iraq during Operation Desert Storm (Iraq, 1991), they did not know what the litter was. As a result of their curiosity, this type of U.S. weaponry killed and injured more American troops than any Iraqi weapon system during that war."
  • Signing cluster bomb ban enhances international trust Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer to the U.N. offices in Geneva, said in May 2008, "Development, reciprocal trust, prevention, and creating conditions for a dignified life are parameters without which security or stability are impossible."[7]
  • US strong-arms nations by saying cluster bomb ban undermines alliances That the United States is claiming that a cluster bomb ban treaty will undermine its ability to work with other nations in peace keepign and other operations is a sad and unfortunate threat and strong-arming tactic. The purpose is not to explain reality, but to threaten allies that dare to sign any ban with the prospect of losing the support of the United States in important strategic or humanitarian missions.
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No

  • A cluster bomb ban will undermine military alliances Oliver Kamm. "Cluster bombs: don't ban them". Times Online. May 29, 2008. - "The most enduring costs of an extensive treaty, however, will be to the solidarity of Nato. The United States insists on the option of using cluster munitions. The US is not merely one state among many. In the absence of world government, it is the provider and guarantor of collective security. Under the terms of the treaty, military personnel might face criminal prosecution if they operated alongside US forces."


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Improving cluster bombs: Is improving cluster bombs an inadequate solution?

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Yes

  • Even with better cluster bombs, old ones will still be used. When new weapons are developed in the world, it is false to believe that they will be used immediately. Instead, older stockpiles are used, before they become too outdated. Therefore, improving cluster bombs will not necessarily prevent the use of the existing stockpiles of cluster bombs, which are malfunctioning and killing civilians as a result.
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No

The policy shift, which is outlined in a three-page memo signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, would require that after 2018, more than 99 percent of the bomblets in a cluster bomb must detonate.
Limiting the amount of live munitions left on the battlefield would lessen the danger to innocent civilians who have been killed or severely injured when they accidentally detonate the bombs."
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Feasibility: Is a ban on cluster bombs feasible?

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Yes

  • International will for ban demonstrates success is possible Thomas Nash, international coordinator for the Cluster Munition Coalition, a network of about 200 organizations promoting the ban. - "From our perspective, this is quite an amazing result. Only a year and a half ago, countries would have said you were mad to think the world could turn around and ban cluster munitions with an international treaty, but what we’ve achieved here in Dublin is exactly that."[8]
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No

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International law: Are cluster bombs consistent with international law?

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Yes

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No

  • 1997 Anti-Personnel Landmines Treaty should not be interpreted to include cluster bombs Jeffrey Benner. "The Case Against Cluster Bombs". Mother Jones. May 28, 1999 - At a 1997 Pentagon briefing regarding the land mine ban, the Pentagon said that while it supports the land-mine ban, it would like to see the word “primarily” inserted at the beginning of the definition. They believe this would insure that cluster bombs would be exempted from the ban, since they are not “primarily designed” to function as land mines. If “primarily” were not included, one Pentagon briefer explained, “that could knock out a number of systems that we really do need -- some of our runway and island munitions and that sort of thing, and that's what we're concerned about. We want to be sure that if we're talking about a land mine ban we're talking about land mines.”
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Join operations: Is a ban flexible to signatories and non-signatories?

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Yes

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No

  • A cluster bomb ban would jeopardize joint peacekeeping operations. Stephen Mull, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs told reporters in May of 2008 the proposed ban being discussed could 'criminalize' joint military operations between countries that signed the ban and those that did not. "we are concerned that measures adopted by the Oslo process could very much endanger our ability to operate and to cooperate with other militaries and other governments around the world. For example, the current draft of the Oslo process convention under consideration would effectively criminalize cooperation of countries who sign the convention, the Oslo process convention, criminalize their cooperation with militaries who do not sign them, who do not - with governments who do not sign the convention and who still use cluster munitions. And this would have very grave implications for a whole range of activities that we don't think are within the goals of the organizers of this process."[9]
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US-specific: What are the US-specific arguments?

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Yes

  • Rejection of cluster bomb ban damages US image Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch said in May 2008, "This has completely and totally isolated the U.S., and represents a real failure of U.S. foreign policy. Britain has stood up to the U.S."[10]
  • The United States does not help current demining work. Times reported that the United States is contributing only $7 million for current demining efforts. More importantly,the United States has not provided a list of areas where it dropped cluster bombs. [11]
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No

  • Cluster bomb ban will put US soldiers at risk State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in May 2008 that joining the ban would put U.S. soldiers' lives at risk. This is a result of the fact that they have a demonstrated military value. Casey said, "While the United States shares the humanitarian concerns of those in Dublin, cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility."[12]
  • Technological advances will ensure that future cluster bombs reliably explode or quickly disable themselves.[13]
  • The ban on May 28 will not succeed unless you get the major world powers at the table. The United States argues that the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is a more appropriate forum in which to talk about cluster munitions with major world powers at the table, Mull said. [14]
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Pro/con resources

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Yes

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No


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Pro/con videos

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Yes

"Cluster Bombs: A Weapon out of Control - Human Rights Watch". YouTube 28 Mar. 2007[15]


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No

See also

External links and resources

Videos


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