Are Anti-U.S. Feelings Driving Cluster Bomb Treaty?

The papacy may or may not have tried to ban the crossbow. But the Second Lateran Council (1139) certainly disparaged the "murderous art of crossbowmen and archers" when their weapons were directed against Christians. The dismayed council decided to prohibit their use on Christians "from now on."

Alas, perpetuity proved to be short-lived.

Likewise, naval arms limitations treaties after World War One failed to stop naval warfare in World War Two.

As naval-history.net notes, in 1936 Hitler's Germany "agreed to prohibit unrestricted submarine warfare against unarmed ships." Yes, in 1936 Hitler claimed -disarmingly-that he wanted peace, and legions of appeasers believed him. Within three years Hitler invaded Poland, and the U-boats began their savage sea campaign.

Arms control treaties have a uninspiring history of trust, hope, and, occasionally, technological vision, entwined with delusions, calculated lies, rhetorical posturing, and outright political fraud. They have a sad legacy of providing diplomatic cover for vicious dictatorships. Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and ---as it plays thermonuclear hide and seek with the UN, EU, US, Israel, and Iraq-- remains superficially committed to the agreement. North Korea signed it and cheated, then withdrew. (Further reading here.)

Which brings us to the cluster munitions convention negotiations held in Ireland in late May, and the conference' treaty banning cluster munitions adopted on May 30.

Hosannaed by arms controllers, hoorahed by "the international community," hailed by anti-Americans everywhere, the treaty is another attempt to politically cleanse warfare. Over 100 nations are scheduled to sign the treaty at ceremonies this coming December.

Cluster weapons are hideous weapons -but show me a weapon that isn't. "Area weapons" like the first-generation of cluster munitions are not a new idea. The canister round discharged by Napoleon's smooth-bore cannons wreaked hell on opposing cavalry formations and massed infantry assaults. Canister and its cousin "grapeshot" were the machinegun rounds and after a fashion, the cluster munitions of their era.

Modern cluster munitions are small bomblets released from artillery shells or larger bombs. "Grenade-like" is a common description for at least one type of cluster munition.

The United States pushed development of cluster munitions to serve as a "super canister round from above" fired at or dropped on massed Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers, and (the best target) the "thin-skinned" trucks supporting the armor. The "sub-munitions" (bomblets) would scatter from the larger "delivery-dispersal munition" and strike the vehicles or serve as "instant minefields" that would damage tracks or tires and immobilize the vehicles.

"No nukes!" That is an old cry, and fewer nukes remains a good idea. The Cold War-era cluster munitions were regarded as conventional alternatives to tactical nuclear weapons - in theory cluster munitions could at least delay if not severely damage an entire Soviet tank division attempting to break through NATO lines and drive to the Rhine. In other words, the weapons reduced the possibility of nuclear warfare in Europe.

Cluster-type munitions could also be used against infantry (anti-personnel role) or used to suppress anti-aircraft weapons (guns, radars, missiles, etc). A "cluster strike" against a Saddam-era anti-aircraft position could save the life of US or British pilots flying UN-sanctioned "no fly zone" missions over northern Iraq -- missions designed to save the lives of innocent Kurds exposed to Saddam's depredations.

Like every explosive bomb or round a certain number of cluster munitions fail to explode. Cluster munitions litter many battlefields and continue to kill after the war ends. This is the legitimate moral spine of the argument to ban the weapons -- like land mines and other unexploded ordnance, innocent lives are taken long after the military forces have left. The moral spine of the argument to keep them is made by the US Department of Defense which says the weapons protect the lives of American soldiers. Many pro-ban supporters don't have cluster munitions. Many pro-ban supporters don't like American soldiers, either. Saddam would have preferred the US and British pilots leave his airspace, so he could have his way with the Kurds.