02.28.13

Feinstein, Leahy, McGovern Introduce Bill To Restrict Use of Cluster Munitions

Feinstein, Leahy, McGovern Introduce Bill To Restrict Use of Cluster Munitions

WASHINGTON  -- U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Thursday introduced the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act, a bill to restrict the use and deployment of dangerous cluster munitions. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

Cluster bombs are canisters designed to open in the air before making contact, dispersing between 200 and 400 small munitions that can saturate a radius of 250 yards. The bombs are intended for military use when attacking enemy troop formations, but are often used in or near populated areas. This is a problem because up to 40 percent of these bomblets fail to explode and become de facto landmines, posing a significant risk to civilians—particularly children — lasting years after a conflict ends.

“Unexploded cluster bombs become de facto landmines and pose an unacceptable risk to innocent civilians,” said Senator Feinstein. “The current Pentagon policy allows for the use of cluster bombs with high failure rates until 2018 — we must do better. This bill speeds up implementation of the policy and provides a national security waiver. It is a commonsense measure that will help save civilian lives and improve the image of the United States abroad.”

“This bill would help bring U.S. policy in line with our values,” said Senator Leahy. “Too often, cluster bombs are used in ways that kill and maim civilians whose support is key to the success of our Armed Forces. This bill would limit where such weapons are used and remove from our arsenal antiquated munitions that indiscriminately endanger civilians for years.”

“We must do everything possible to spare innocent civilians from weapons intended for military targets,” said Rep. McGovern. “Cluster bombs pose an unacceptable risk to those innocents. I'm hopeful that we can make significant progress on this issue this year.”

The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act prevents any U.S. military funds from being used on cluster munitions with a failure rate of more than 1 percent, unless the rules of engagement specify that cluster munitions:

  • Will only be used against clearly defined military targets and;
  • Will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.

The bill requires the president to report to Congress on the plan to clean up unexploded cluster munitions, and includes a national security waiver allowing the president to waive the prohibition if he determines such a waiver is vital to national security.

The civilian toll has been staggering:

  • Combining the first and second Gulf Wars, the total number of unexploded bomblets in the region is approximately 1.2 million. An estimated 1,220 Kuwaitis and 400 Iraqi civilians have been killed since 1991.
  • In Iraq in 2003, 13,000 cluster bombs with nearly 2 million bomblets were used.
  • In Afghanistan in 2001, 1,228 cluster bombs with 248,056 bomblets were used. Between October 2001 and November 2002, 127 civilians were killed, 70 percent of them under the age of 18.
  • Between 9 million and 27 million unexploded cluster bombs remain in Laos from U.S. bombing campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s. Approximately 11,000 people, 30 percent of them children, have been killed or injured since the war ended.
  • Most recently, it is estimated that Israel dropped 4 million bomblets in southern Lebanon, and 1 million of these bomblets failed to explode. And reports indicate that Hezbollah retaliated with cluster bomb strikes of their own.

The Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions — which has been signed by 111 countries and ratified by 77 — prohibits the production, use, and export of cluster munitions and requires signatories to eliminate their arsenals within eight years. To date, the United States has not signed the treaty.

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[LEAHY’S FULL STATEMENT:]

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
On The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act

February 28, 2013

Mr. President, I am pleased to join with my friend from California, Senator Feinstein, in introducing the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2013. It is identical to the bill that she and I have introduced in prior years, and I commend her for her persistence on this important humanitarian issue.

I come to this issue having devoted much effort over many years to shining a spotlight on and doing what can be done to help innocent victims of war. In the last century, and continuing into this new century, noncombatants increasingly have borne the brunt of the casualties in armed conflicts across the globe. Limiting the use of weapons that are inherently indiscriminate, such as landmines, and that have indiscriminate effects, such as cluster munitions, are tangible, practical, meaningful things we can do to reduce these unnecessary casualties.

Cluster munitions, like any weapon, have some military utility. But anyone who has seen the indiscriminate devastation that cluster munitions cause over wide areas understands the unacceptable threat they pose to noncombatants. These are not the laser guided weapons the Pentagon showed destroying their targets during the invasion of Baghdad. To the contrary. Cluster munitions can kill and maim anyone within the 360 degree range of flying shrapnel.

And there is the horrific problem of cluster munitions that fail to explode as designed and remain as active duds, like landmines, until they are triggered by whoever comes into contact with them. Often it is an unsuspecting child, or a farmer.

Even now, in Laos today people are still being killed and maimed by millions of U.S. cluster munitions left from the 1970s. That legacy, resulting from years of secret bombing of a peaceful, agrarian people who posed no threat to the United States, contaminated more than a third of Laos’ agricultural land and cost countless innocent lives. It is shameful that we have contributed less in the past 35 years to clean up these deadly remnants of war than we spent in a few days of bombing.

Current law prohibits U.S. sales, exports and transfers of cluster munitions that have a failure rate exceeding 1 percent. The law also requires any sale, export or transfer agreement to include a requirement that the cluster munitions will be used only against military targets.

The Pentagon continues to insist that the United States should retain the ability to use millions of cluster munitions in its arsenal which have estimated failure rates of 5 to 20 percent. It has pledged to meet the 1 percent failure rate for U.S. use of cluster munitions in 2018.

Like Senator Feinstein I reject the notion that the United States can justify using antiquated weapons that so often fail, so often kill and injure innocent people including children, and which many of our allies have renounced. That is not the kind of leadership the world needs and expects from the United States. If we have learned anything from Afghanistan it is that harming civilians, even unintentionally, creates enemies among those whose support we need, and undermines the mission of our troops.

Senator Feinstein’s and my bill would apply the 1 percent failure rate to U.S. use of cluster munitions beginning on the date of enactment. However, our bill permits the President to waive the 1 percent requirement if the President certifies that it is vital to protect the security of the United States. I would hope the Pentagon would recognize that this is in its best interest, and will work with us by supporting this reasonable step.

Since December 3, 2008, when the Convention on Cluster Munitions opened for signature in Dublin, at least 111 countries have signed the treaty including Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Norway, Australia and other allies of the United States. However, the Bush Administration did not participate in the negotiations that culminated in the treaty, and the Obama Administration has not signed it.

Some have dismissed the Cluster Munitions Convention as a pointless exercise, since it does not yet have the support of the United States and other major powers such as Russia, China, Pakistan, India and Israel. These are some of the same critics of the Ottawa treaty banning antipersonnel landmines, which the United States and the other countries I named have also refused to sign. But that treaty has dramatically reduced the number of landmines produced, used, sold, and stockpiled – and the number of mine victims has fallen sharply. Any government that contemplates using landmines today does so knowing that it will be condemned by the international community. I suspect it is only a matter of time before the same is true for cluster munitions.

It is important to note that the United States today has the technological ability to produce cluster munitions that meet the requirements of our bill, as well as of the treaty. What is lacking is the political will to act. There is no excuse for continuing to use cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

I urge the Obama Administration to review its policy on cluster munitions and put the United States on a path to join the treaty as soon as possible. In the meantime, our legislation would be an important step in the right direction.

I want again to thank and commend Senator Feinstein, who has shown such passion and steadfastness in raising this issue and seeking every opportunity to protect civilians from these indiscriminate weapons.

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