Published: Sun, December 03, 2017
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

Pentagon withdraws plan to ban use of cluster bombs

Pentagon withdraws plan to ban use of cluster bombs

The Pentagon is putting off indefinitely a planned 2019 ban on using certain cluster bombs, which release explosive sub-munitions, or bomblets, that can kill indiscriminately and pose hazards to civilians.

Still, it was unclear at what point in the future the Pentagon might be required to stop using its existing stockpiles, since there would also need to be not just higher-tech weaponry, but sufficient quantities of new cluster munitions for USA stocks.

Under a policy set nine years ago by the George Bush administration, the January 1, 2019 was to end its use of cluster bombs except those that met a standard of failing to detonate 1 percent of the time or less.

"This is a profoundly retrograde step that puts the US way out of line with the worldwide consensus-cluster munitions are banned by more than 100 countries due to their inherently indiscriminate nature and the risks they pose to civilians", said Patrick Wilcken, researcher on arms control and human rights at Amnesty global. It does not specify what sufficient quantities are, and defines "safer" as meeting the 1 percent standard from the previous policy, by developing a self-destruct mechanism in the bomb, or removing the bomb's ability to explode by exhaustion of its power source. 'We condemn this decision to reverse the long-held USA commitment not to use cluster munitions that fail more than 1 percent of the time, resulting in deadly unexploded sub-munitions'.

The Defense Department memo also calls on the Pentagon to purchase only the newer, safer version of the bombs and bans exports of the older versions.

The Saudi government hasdenied using cluster bombs in populated areas.

Sen Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, called it a shame that the United States 'will continue to be a global outlier, ' and she urged President Donald Trump to reverse course.

"The US says it can't produce "safe" cluster munitions, so it has made a decision to keep using 'unsafe" ones, ' she said. Amnesty International documented a 2010 U.S. attack on Yemen which apparently used cluster bombs and killed 41 civilians including 21 children.

However critics say they kill indiscriminately and pose hazards to civilians. The George W. Bush administration declared in 2008 that after

'Cluster munitions are indiscriminate, and as such, they frequently kill civilians and damage infrastructure long after conflicts end, ' Feinstein said.

Such weaponry must meet a series of criteria, including having a way to render submunitions inoperable within 15 minutes of being armed.

But despite efforts, the U.S. military has been unable to produce bombs (file) with failure rates of 1 per cent or less.

Top photo | A Houthi rebel man holds a US-made cluster bomb fragment after a Saudi-led airstrike in Yemen's capital, Monday, April 20, 2015.

The memo, which was expected to be signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Thursday, called cluster munitions "legitimate weapons with clear military utility".

In the memo, Shannahan calls cluster munitions "legitimate weapons with clear military utility" and argues that "we can not risk mission failure or accept the potential of increased military and civilian casualties by forfeiting the best available capabilities".

Crossen told The Hill that there is no cluster munition now on the market that meets that standard, despite the postponement on the ban.

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