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Cluster bombs banned by over 100 countries
May 28, 2008 7:35 PM   Subscribe

More than 100 nations have reached an agreement on a treaty which would ban current designs of cluster bombs. Naturally, the most militant nations (USA, Russia, China, India, Pakistan) have refused to negotiate (creating significant interoperability issues for allied nations such as the UK to the USA). The Cluster Munition Coalition is an excellent resource about the issue.

The issue of interoperability (.pdf) ensured that Australia remained on the side of the USA in considering this issue. The Australian Democrats proposed the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill 2006, which was defeated in Committee by both major parties. Dissenting report here.
posted by wilful (41 comments total)

 
Actually, all the nations which don't have them agreed not to use them. The nations which do have them refused to participate.

To put it another way, no signature on that treaty is worth anything. Nothing will change because of it.
posted by Class Goat at 7:44 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


As the link says, the land mine treaty hasn't gained all of the signatures that would be desirable, but it is suggested that it's mere existence has forestalled the deployment of landmines in recent times.
posted by wilful at 7:47 PM on May 28, 2008


The landmine treaty is a joke. It doesn't ban all landmines, it only bans anti-personnel land mines.

And if you look at the fine print, it turns out that the difference between anti-personnel land mines (which are banned) and anti-vehicle land mines (which are not) is intent. Which is to say, that if you call a mine "anti-personnel" then it violates the treaty. If you call the exact same mine "anti-vehicle" then it is permitted. There is no technical difference between the two described in the treaty. (I read it to find out.)

Anti-vehicle land mines are permitted to have anti-tampering fuses, which is to say they're permitted to go off if a person on foot approaches them.

Though the treaty doesn't say so, as a practical matter the difference is that anti-vehicle land mines are more powerful. For rather creepy reasons, a lot of anti-personnel land mines are designed to maim without killing. (That's because a soldier who is screaming in pain because his foot has been blown off causes more damage to unit morale than a soldier dies instantly. He also has to be carried out of the line, usually by fellow soldiers, and his medical care puts a logistical strain on the enemy. Ain't military strategy wonderful?)

Anti-vehicle mines are enough more powerful that they usually kill outright, and those are not banned by the treaty.

...it is suggested that it's mere existence has forestalled the deployment of landmines in recent times.

Or at least it has made people lie about it.
posted by Class Goat at 7:59 PM on May 28, 2008 [7 favorites]


I have to agree with Class Goat. This is one of those treaties that makes people that have no idea what the actual text says feel good about themselves for supporting it but in fact does absolutely nothing. If anything, it detracts from actual progress in banning such weapons.
posted by Falconetti at 8:22 PM on May 28, 2008


In early 1984, the cluster bomb was just a dream in James R. Farmer's head.* Then he drew up plans, got a patent, created a proposal for the military, got funding for his idea, and a whole team of designers and engineers built prototypes, tested them, and then they were deployed in the field.

His dream came true!

I remember seeing it on CNN - it was a NEW WONDERWEAPON that the US was selling to Saddam Hussien! Now he could win the war against Iran!

*apologies to P. Gabriel
posted by Meatbomb at 8:33 PM on May 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


>The nations which do have them refused to participate.

Bullshit. The UK are abandoning two kinds of munitions.

>have no idea what the actual text says

Amusing. RTFA.
posted by pompomtom at 8:48 PM on May 28, 2008


Or to expand on pompomtom, the UK will cease operating one artillery weapon and one helicopter gunship weapon.
posted by wilful at 8:51 PM on May 28, 2008


When I worked for Hadassah Magazine, I was really quiet about my personal politics, being rather unwilling to stroll into a room full of dedicated Zionists and stir things up (I conducted myself on most days like Tippi Hedren and the others at the end of The Birds, sloooowly and quietly packing up the car). However, when Israel salted the Lebanese border with cluster bombs even though the whole kerfuffle was on the verge of wrapping up, I couldn't hold my tongue any longer. I turned to ask the girl in the next cubicle what she thought of this tactic.

At first she gave a really cautious answer about how they'd started it, etc. And then I reminded her that mines were essentially terrorist weapons that preyed on civilians, etc. At the end of this exchange, she shared what proved to be the only honest, intelligent personal response to any question about Israel that I would receive during my time there. She looked at me with moist eyes and said, "I just can't afford to think of it that way. I really wish that none of the killing was happening on either side, and I agree that those weapons should never, ever be used. If it was up to me, they wouldn't. Our leaders aren't perfect, but they are all that stands between Israel and its enemies, and what can I do but support them and hope for the best?"

The fact that this was as close to a dissenting opinion as I ever heard gave me a lot to think about.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 9:31 PM on May 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


USA, Russia, China, India, Pakistan

Thats some good company we keep there. Stay classy, USA.
posted by Avenger at 9:31 PM on May 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


When I heard the news snippet today my thought was, pretty much verbatim "humm I wonder if the US, China, Russia, Israel and India have agreed to it"... damn I substituted Israel for Pakistan, but nailed the rest of the SOBs
posted by edgeways at 9:42 PM on May 28, 2008


"The landmine treaty is a joke..."

Do we still believe the lie that no nation's military will shoot a person who is wearing an insignia designating said person a medic?

The very idea that there are laws about war is fucking hilarious. AND ridiculous. IT'S WAR, MRS. PEACOCK!
posted by ZachsMind at 9:47 PM on May 28, 2008


edgeways, sorry, but I think Israel won't be giving theirs up either.
posted by wilful at 9:53 PM on May 28, 2008


And if you look at the fine print, it turns out that the difference between anti-personnel land mines (which are banned) and anti-vehicle land mines (which are not) is intent. Which is to say, that if you call a mine "anti-personnel" then it violates the treaty. If you call the exact same mine "anti-vehicle" then it is permitted. There is no technical difference between the two described in the treaty. (I read it to find out.)

I think this is incorrect, and kind of a secondary issue behind getting the treaty ratified. Compared to many subjects of international dispute -- particularly regarding military matters -- the distinction between anti-personnel versus anti-vehicle mines is not that difficult in practice. There may be some grey areas, but for the most part everyone know exactly what the difference is and classifying them isn't the problem -- e.g., you don't put shrapnel or other flesh-shredding ordinance in an anti-tank weapon; you generally use a shaped charge, etc. "Intent" certainly comes in directly the design of the mine, and it's not difficult to see when a mine has bee designed to do maximum damage to infantry as opposed to vehicles.

And "Anti-tampering mechanisms" doesn't mean you can just slap an anti-personnel mine on top; it means you can rig the mine to explode if it's opened. The key difference would be, say, an anti-tank mine rigged with a pressure sensor that detects footsteps rather than tank treads (and it's not hard to tell the difference). That clearly wouldn't be an anti-vehicle mine since it wouldn't target vehicles. Anti-vehicle mines simply don't explode unless put under serious pressure; that's the entire idea of an anti-vehicle mine -- they don't trigger as the infantry walks over but when the tank treads roll over the wide sensor is tripped and a shaped charge blows up through the vehicle. Just because you build a really-really huge anti-personnel mine that can blow up a Humvee doesn't mean you can call it an anti-vehicle mine unless you set the pressure sensors to target humvees, not soldiers.

The issue is strategic use -- generally trigger sensitivity, not ordinance. Anti-vehicle ordinance doesn't have to be huge: the goal is armor piercing rather than wounding soft targets, and a few superdense slugs packed in front of shaped charges doesn't necessarily occupy way more space than a pop-up anti-personnel mine, but neither would really have much effect on the other's intended target without some bad luck.

Really, the problem with these treaties is that the countries resisting it like their air superiority and they like their cluster bombs. And anti-land-mine treaty would put us in bad shape dropping our favorite ordinance, because it seems clear many of our cluster bombs end up as magically planted minefields. But there's really no gray area between anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. The solution is simple -- adopt a treaty which covers the mast majority of current anti-personnell mine as well as an Committee that certifies mine and has to authority to move those mines from serfi; and e.g., is graphite a dual-use weapon because it can be used in nuclear weaponry, or just a material for making pencils? --We couldn't figure it out for the Iraq sanctions in the 1990s. And that wasn't even as borderline as the aluminum tubes stuff, which we were also wrong about. Everything is a weapon.


It seems to me that throwing out a good treaty simply because some people might game the system isn't a very productive notion.... YMMV
posted by spiderwire at 10:13 PM on May 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Sure, you can be cynical about this -- it changes very little in the short term. But I think it does establish a baseline of international consensus that like the land-mine treaty before it may inhibit their use by the countries that continue to stockpile them. Any treaty has to start somewhere, and it's very easy to doubt that other parties will adhere to one. But it's actually good that there are parties dissenting rather than cynically signing and later abrogating, and it is the sort of thing that will increasingly put the US and others in awkward situations as with the indicated NATO issues. I don't think future US administrations will revel so much in the history-will-judge-us pariah status as the Bushies do.

The very idea that there are laws about war is fucking hilarious.

I think this is deeply incorrect. War is obviously hell no matter what, and the idea that there can be civilized warfare is probably a futile ideal, but we must create what inhibitions we can. The history of the laws of war shows many instances of flouting, but it also shows many instances of using the laws to create communications avenues and verification regimes that have inhibiting the start of conflict itself. If you believe that your neighbor is going to call you on something, you may think twice about doing it. The fact that some will not think twice -- that some members of a society will break the rules -- does not require that a society reject all law.
posted by dhartung at 10:31 PM on May 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


To put it another way, no signature on that treaty is worth anything. Nothing will change because of it.

Or, to put it another way, you have to start somewhere. And this is probably a pretty good place to start.

If American citizens would be kind enough not to elect yet another insane ideologue as World President, there might be more movement on such things as cluster munitions, global warming and the running sore that is the Middle East.
posted by mattoxic at 10:33 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't worry everyone Hillary Clinton is on the case, protecting our precious cluster bombs from those who would restrict their use to non-civilian areas
posted by delmoi at 11:37 PM on May 28, 2008


Presumably everyone knows what "Belling the Cat" means. These treaties are belling the cat. The Have-Nots all decide that the Haves should give up what they have.

It's easy to understand why they want that. But that doesn't mean anyone should take them seriously.

...you have to start somewhere. And this is probably a pretty good place to start.

Sorry, I don't agree. I think that pointless gestures serve no purpose at all except to make the gesturer feel virtuous.
posted by Class Goat at 11:42 PM on May 28, 2008


As regards the land mine treaty, here's the text of it. The critical section says:
"Anti-personnel mine" means a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons. Mines designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a vehicle as opposed to a person, that are equipped with anti-handling devices, are not considered anti-personnel mines as a result of being so equipped. ...

"Anti-handling device" means a device intended to protect a mine and which is part of, linked to, attached to or placed under the mine and which activates when an attempt is made to tamper with or otherwise intentionally disturb the mine.
So the letter of the law is that as long as the mine has a fuse that can be triggered by vehicle, it's OK.

But even if everything SpiderWire said above about this treaty was true, why is this treaty considered a Good Thing? It bans the smallest, weakest, least deadly mines but no others. By analogy, it bans single-shot bolt action rifles but leaves machine guns legal. Does this really help anything?
posted by Class Goat at 11:54 PM on May 28, 2008


Sorry, I don't agree. I think that pointless gestures serve no purpose at all except to make the gesturer feel virtuous.

Perhaps the treaty should be reworded to demand all countries have cluster bombs. If that were the case the pesky Have Nots would shut up and go away. Problem solved and we everyone's feelin' virtuous.
posted by mattoxic at 12:08 AM on May 29, 2008


In early 1984, the cluster bomb was just a dream in James R. Farmer's head.

Maybe you mean a very specific type of cluster bomb, but cluster bombs have been around much longer. Millions of tons of them were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War, and many are still around, still killing people, today.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 12:27 AM on May 29, 2008


This is probably a good thing, but I'm loath to get behind anything that Heather Mills supports...
posted by three blind mice at 12:57 AM on May 29, 2008


There are at least several nations that have cluster munitions that signed this treaty. I'm glad mine finally did.

India isn't going to sign unless Pakistan does, and vice-versa. Russia, China and the USA are being their usual terrorist-state selves, as could be expected.

That doesn't mean that this treaty isn't another small step towards actual civilisation.
posted by Djinh at 2:17 AM on May 29, 2008


But even if everything SpiderWire said above about this treaty was true, why is this treaty considered a Good Thing? It bans the smallest, weakest, least deadly mines but no others. By analogy, it bans single-shot bolt action rifles but leaves machine guns legal. Does this really help anything?

Because these smallest mines are larger threat to civilians, because they are cheaper and easier to spread around and easier to lost track where the mines are put. Vehicle mines make roads unusable until those roads are cleared and people know to avoid those roads. Personnel mines are all over the place. 10 weak mines kill or maim more people than 1 big.

If you need one more example about arms treaties being not just empty posturing, think chemical weapons. Very useful as horror weapons and chlorine is easy to manufacture, but not much used in 20th century conflicts after World War I treaties because of the international agreement that we don't want to go there again. Even as modern wars have been bloody and used all possible means to hurt the opposite -- even chemical weapons, if available -- treaties have effectively made them not available when the judgement is at its weakest.
posted by Free word order! at 2:32 AM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


By analogy, it bans single-shot bolt action rifles but leaves machine guns legal.

A better analogy would be that it bans rifles, while leaving anti-tank missiles legal. The difference, as I believe spiderwire was pointing out, is that while certainly both anti-tank missiles and rifles can kill people, rifles are specifically designed to kill people, while anti-tank missiles are designed to destroy tanks. You're describing anti-vehicle land mines as larger anti-personnel land mines, which is innacurate, as for example, anti-personnel land mines are often designed to have a wide blast radius, while an anti-vehicle land mind requires a very intense cone of impact in order to penetrate armor.

The key defining statement in the treaty, as you quoted, is that the land mine must be designed to trigger when a vehicle runs over it. Given that vehicles and people have very different weights and move in very different ways, discerning between the two is an important part of the design of the mine. If a mine is supposed to kill vehicles, I'm not going to put a trigger in it that goes off when it experiences a brief 150 lb pressure. It's going to take more like half a ton to several tons.

This is actually important, because a key issue with the land mine treaty is that unexploded land mines tend to become exploded when people happen upon them. On the other hand, anti-vehicle land mines, being designed to trigger at much higher weights, are far less likely to go off when a person steps on them. In this sense, the anti-land mine treaty is very much a step in the right direction, as it decreases the likelihood of an innocent bystander being killed by a leftover mine.
posted by !Jim at 2:43 AM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do we still believe the lie that no nation's military will shoot a person who is wearing an insignia designating said person a medic?

The very idea that there are laws about war is fucking hilarious.


I especially love the part at the end where they take them out and hang them.

LAMO! ROTFL!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:00 AM on May 29, 2008


Class Goat:The nations which do have them refused to participate.
As pompompon said, that's not true. The Netherlands also have to stop using certain munition because of this treaty.
posted by davar at 6:25 AM on May 29, 2008


Laying down a thick carpet bombing is the best way to disarm landmines.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:40 AM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


FWIW, this was the first bit of news that made me feel a bit proud of the present UK government in months.
posted by WPW at 7:05 AM on May 29, 2008


While I think it is great that this has been signed, it reamains very easy for many of the signatories to call in a US airstrike using cluster bombs when the shit hits the fan. Why would the British, for example, need them so long as they are working in tamdem with us?
posted by Pollomacho at 8:32 AM on May 29, 2008


Class Goat: It bans the smallest, weakest, least deadly mines but no others. By analogy, it bans single-shot bolt action rifles but leaves machine guns legal. Does this really help anything?

The ICBL has a fairly good explanation of why anti-personnel landmines are more dangerous. Better to read that part in addition to the treaty definitions.

In short, far from being the weakest and least deadly, AP landmines are more dangerous than larger mines because they are much more likely to be set off by a person. Anti-tank landmines are buried deeper below the surface and so are far less likely to be accidentally unearthed, and the pressure required to set them off is designed to be larger than the weight of a person.
posted by theyexpectresults at 10:42 AM on May 29, 2008


I'm hopeful about this. The purpose of the treaty is to ban the kinds of cluster bombs that have effectively harmed civilian populations, and it does that. Small step, but what do you expect - a treaty banning any and all bombs, bullets, slings and arrows?

The UK's signing of the treaty is awesome, and quite a slap to the U.S.'s face. The U.S. is faced with a moral policy issue; even if it never signs the treaty, I bet its use of the types of cluster bombs covered in the treaty will diminish, if not end (similar to the effects of the unsigned land mine treaty).

"In addition, some cluster bomblets, such as the BLU-97/B used in the CBU-87, are brightly colored to increase their visibility and warn off civilians. However, the color, coupled with their small and nonthreatening appearance, has caused children to interpret them as toys. This problem was exacerbated in the War in Afghanistan (2001–present), when US forces dropped humanitarian rations from airplanes with similar yellow-colored packaging as the BLU-97/B." [wiki]

Of course, the U.S. changed their color to bright blue after that.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:47 AM on May 29, 2008


The nations which do have them refused to participate.
Not entirely true. I've not been able to find a complete list of the conference participants, so I can't give a more detailed description of capabilities. However, of the nations I've seen mentioned in reports, there are at least 8 who probably possess the capability of delivering cluster weapons from at least one type of aircraft. There are 3 that definitely possess that capability (I know because I helped put it there).

Unfortunately, the nations I see represented here that I know have the capability are those that are, to put it tactfully, not likely to use them in anger. I say "unfortunately" because other clients who possess the capability and are very likely to use it haven't appeared in any reports of conference attendees.

Some people here are conflating landmines and cluster weapons. They are not always the same. A weapon like the CBU-87, CBU-103 or JSOW A deploys tiny bomblets that are designed to explode on contact. A weapon like the Gator (CBU-104 or CBU-89) is designed to lay down a pattern of anti-tank mines (with magnetic fuzes) interspersed with anti-personnel mines (with trip wire fuzes to deter defuzing of that anti-tank mines). The CBU-105 and CBU-97 are anti-vehicle weapons that fire slugs of metal down into hot spots such as vehicle engines. CBU-107 is a kinetic energy weapon that disperses tungsten rods and lets gravity do its job (used against targets such as chemical tanks where the spread of the target's contents is a problem). All these are cluster weapons, but only the Gator is really a landmine. There are other non-cluster weapons -- such as a 500-lb warhead with a delayed fuze -- that are landmines. So: cluster weapons do not necessarily mean landmines and vice-versa. (Unhappily, the dud rate of some of the other weapons (as high as 5%, which can leave as many as 10 unexploded devices lying around) turns them into de facto, if unintentional, landmines. The same applies to artillery shells, however.) BTW, the US has not allowed aircraft with the capability of deploying the above-mentioned landmine weapons to be sold to any foreign governments outside of NATO for the last 10 years.
posted by forrest at 12:10 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is actually important, because a key issue with the land mine treaty is that unexploded land mines tend to become exploded when people happen upon them. On the other hand, anti-vehicle land mines, being designed to trigger at much higher weights, are far less likely to go off when a person steps on them. In this sense, the anti-land mine treaty is very much a step in the right direction, as it decreases the likelihood of an innocent bystander being killed by a leftover mine.

Right. Until three or four innocent bystanders drive over one in their truck.
posted by rokusan at 2:08 PM on May 29, 2008


Right. Until three or four innocent bystanders drive over one in their truck.

That's kind of obtuse. Again, this conflation doesn't make sense. The point is that anti-vehicle mines are generally placed on roads or places where there are, you know, vehicles, and those mines tend to get found pretty quick one way or another. But anti-personnel mines often end up in out-of-the-way places where they can remain a danger for years until someone's out on a hike with their kid and it goes off. Anti-personnel mines are also generally harder to find, easier to conceal, and easier to set off accidentally.
posted by spiderwire at 3:24 PM on May 29, 2008


Spiderwire, the problem with your idea is that you think that "no antipersonnel mines" means "no one will try to use mines to kill people.

It's true that when mine-users have both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines that they put the anti-vehicle mines on roads. (Not always, actually, but we'll go with that for the moment.)

But if all they have are anti-vehicle mines, why would they continue to limit themselves to that kind of placement? If they feel they need to mine an area to stop infantry, and if all they have are anti-vehicle mines, then that is what they'll use. And they'll use them the way they would have used anti-personnel mines.
posted by Class Goat at 9:57 PM on May 29, 2008


class goat - ... (I read it to find out.) Anti-vehicle land mines are permitted to have anti-tampering fuses, which is to say they're permitted to go off if a person on foot approaches them.

class goat, quoting what he read - "Anti-handling device" means a device intended to protect a mine and which is part of, linked to, attached to or placed under the mine and which activates when an attempt is made to tamper with or otherwise intentionally disturb the mine.

so *did* you actually read the section you quoted there? how do you get "permitted to go off if a person on foot approaches them" from "when an attempt is made to tamper with or otherwise intentionally disturb the mine"?
posted by russm at 11:28 PM on May 29, 2008


Obviously I read it, since I quoted it.

You have to think like a lawyer, not like a pacifist or idealist. You have to think like Saddam, not like Gandhi.

Approaching a mine is "attempting to tamper with it", and therefore a fuse which goes off when you approach it is an anti-tamper fuse, legal under the treaty. Or at least it could be claimed that way, if a Saddam wanted to pretend to be in compliance with the treaty.
posted by Class Goat at 11:50 PM on May 29, 2008


well yes it could be claimed that way, just like I could claim I mugged that guy because he didn't pay me the money he owed me... doesn't mean I'm going to get away with it, or that the laws against mugging are worthless other than as a salve to people's consciences...

(and if you asked anyone I know in the real world if I'm a pacifist or idealist, I suspect they'd laugh at the notion)
posted by russm at 12:11 AM on May 30, 2008


cg: Spiderwire, the problem with your idea is that you think that "no antipersonnel mines" means "no one will try to use mines to kill people.

The problem with your argument is that you think that anti-personnel mines are the same as anti-vehicle mines except for where you place them. I assure you that this is not "thinking like a lawyer" to the extent it could be called "thinking" at all.

Not only are you wrong, you don't even seem to have thought through what you're saying. A Cessna and a 747 are both "planes," but if jetliners were banned tomorrow United wouldn't be flying people out of O'Hare in ultralights. A ban on assault rifles doesn't mean you can't file down the firing mechanism on an AR-17 (even though it's illegal), but it also doesn't magically turn your 9mm into a Kalashnikov.
posted by spiderwire at 12:27 PM on May 30, 2008


Wired's Defense Room blog has an interesting article on the CBU-107 kinetic energy weapon that forrest just mentioned. Submitted without comment.
posted by spiderwire at 8:52 PM on May 30, 2008


** That mentions the CBU-107, rather; the article also discusses the cluster bomb treaty.
posted by spiderwire at 8:55 PM on May 30, 2008


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