Statement On The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act

MR. LEAHY. I am pleased to join with my friend from California, Senator Feinstein, in introducing the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2009. This is a slightly revised version of a bill of the same name which we introduced in 2007.

Since December 3, 2008, when the Convention on Cluster Munitions opened for signature in Dublin, 96 countries have signed the treaty including Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Norway, Australia and other allies of the United States. 

The treaty is the culmination of a year of negotiations, launched by Norway, among 107 governments that came together to prohibit the use of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

The Bush Administration did not participate in the negotiations, which I believe was a mistake. As the nation with the world’s most powerful military we should not be on the sidelines while others are trying to protect the lives and limbs of civilians who comprise the vast majority of war casualties today.   

The Pentagon continues to insist that cluster munitions have military utility, and that the U.S. should retain the ability to use millions of cluster munitions in its arsenal which have estimated failure rates of 5 to 20 percent. 

Of course, any weapon, whether cluster munitions, landmines, or even poison gas, has some military utility. But anyone who has seen the indiscriminate devastation cluster munitions cause over a wide area understands the unacceptable threat they can pose to civilians.  These are not the laser guided weapons the Pentagon showed destroying their targets during the invasion of Baghdad. 

And there is the insidious 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.   We saw that recently in Lebanon, and in Laos people are still being killed and maimed by U.S. cluster munitions left from the Vietnam War.

Current law prohibits U.S. sales, exports and transfers of cluster munitions that have a failure rate exceeding 1 percent. That law also requires any sale, export or transfer agreement to include a requirement that the cluster munitions will be used only against military targets and not in areas where civilians are known to be present. 

Last year, the Pentagon announced that it would meet the failure rate requirement for U.S. use of cluster munitions in 2018. While a step forward, I do not believe we can justify continuing to use weapons that so often fail, so often kill and injure civilians, and which many of our allies have renounced. That is not the kind of leadership the world needs and expects from the United States.

Senator Feinstein’s and my bill would apply similar restrictions to the use of cluster munitions beginning immediately on the date of enactment. However, the bill does permit the President to waive the 1 percent requirement if he certifies that it is vital to protect the security of the United States. I urge the Pentagon to work with us by supporting this reasonable step.

I want to express my appreciation to all nations that have signed the treaty, and urge the Obama Administration to review its policy on cluster munitions with a view toward putting the U.S. on a path to join the treaty as soon as possible. In the meantime, our legislation would go a long way toward putting the United States on that path.  

There are some who 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 U.S. 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 U.S. today has the technological ability to produce cluster munitions that would not be prohibited by the treaty. What is lacking is the political will to expend the necessary resources. There is no other excuse for continuing to use cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.   I am committed to working in the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to help secure the resources needed to make this new technology available.

I want to commend Senator Feinstein who has shown real passion and persistence in raising this issue and seeking every opportunity to protect civilians from these indiscriminate weapons.

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