Why Is (Pacifist) Spain Selling Cluster Bombs to Libya?

As Europe’s war with Libya enters its second month, reports are emerging that forces loyal to Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi have used cluster bombs in their siege of Misrata, the only rebel-held city in western Libya.

Cluster bombs are air-dropped or ground-launched explosive weapons that eject dozens (and sometimes hundreds or even thousands) of smaller bomblets that are contained within it over a wide swath of territory. The most common types of cluster bombs are designed to kill enemy personnel and destroy armoured vehicles, but other varieties are used to destroy runways, electric power transmission lines, disperse chemical or biological weapons or to scatter land mines.

Because cluster bombs cannot be fired precisely, they are defined as indiscriminate weapons. As such, they place civilians at grave risk, especially when the weapons are fired into populated areas. Cluster bombs are also notorious for leaving behind a large number of unexploded bomblets that are costly to locate and remove and often kill or maim civilians years or even decades after a conflict has ended.

Concern over the harm and risks that cluster bombs pose to civilians led to the adoption in May 2008 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international treaty that prohibits the use, transfer and stockpile of cluster bombs. The treaty entered into force on August 1, 2010, and it has now been signed by 108 states and formally ratified by 56. Libya (like the United States) is not a signatory to the convention. But Spain is.

As it turns out, expended shell casings of the cluster bombs used by Libyan forces show them to be MAT-120 cargo mortar projectiles, each of which distributes 21 bomblet sub-munitions designed to kill and to penetrate light armour. According to the markings, components from the 120-millimeter rounds were manufactured in Spain in 2007.

Spain did not sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions until 2008 and therefore did nothing illegal by providing Gaddafi with his stockpile of cluster bombs. But considering that the Socialist government of Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has for years been fervently preaching the gospel of pacifism, the arms sales to Libya are rank hypocrisy.

Since taking office in 2004, Zapatero has worked overtime to craft his public persona as a “convinced pacifist.” His first official act as pacifist-in-chief was, famously, to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. That decision was not only wildly popular with Spanish voters, but it also cemented Zapatero’s pacifist credentials on the world stage.

After facing a barrage of criticism from non-pacifists at home and abroad that his Iraq policy amounted to appeasing Islamic terrorists, Zapatero reluctantly deployed extra troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. But just in case that deployment might cast doubt on his commitment to pacifistic ideals, Zapatero dictated strict rules of engagement that forbid Spanish troops in Afghanistan from using lethal force, a “caveat” that to this day renders useless their presence in the country.

In his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Zapatero shed some light on his pacifist vision for achieving world peace. Using the flowery post-modern verbiage for which he is now famous, Zapatero declared: “Culture is always peace.” In case his message was unclear, Zapatero followed up by telling Time magazine that “sexual equality is a lot more effective against terrorism than military strength.”

Zapatero has also been careful to appoint only pacifists as Spanish ministers of defense. Zapatero’s first defense minister, the controversial José Bono Martínez, proclaimed: “I am a minister of defense and I would rather be killed than to kill.” He then issued orders prohibiting Spanish troops in Afghanistan from harming Taliban fighters.

Zapatero’s second minister of defense, José Antonio Alonso Suárez, believed it was his job to demilitarize the Spanish military and to turn the newly disarmed forces into an NGO-like humanitarian organization instead. To achieve his vision, he purged from the senior ranks of the Spanish military those officers who refused to abandon the silly belief that the main mission of the military should be to defend Spanish sovereignty.

During her swearing-in ceremony, Zapatero’s third (and current) defense minister, Carme Chacón, proudly proclaimed: “I am a pacifist, as are the armies of the 21st century.” Again: “I am a pacifist woman, and the Army is also pacifist.” Her biggest achievement as Spain’s pacifism minister has been to unilaterally withdraw Spanish troops from the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. “Mission accomplished. It’s time to go home,” she declared, cementing Spain’s image as an unreliable military partner.