The Use and Abuse of Cluster Munitions

According to Human Rights Watch, the recent hostilities between Saudi Arabia and Yemen's Houthi rebels has taken an interesting turn.  According to HRW, there is credible photographic evidence showing that the Saudi-led coalition has used cluster munitions against Houthi forces. 

 
Let's look at some background first.  Cluster munitions or cluster bombs are dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground.  They open in mid-air and release tens or hundreds of submunitions which can then cover an area that is up to the size of several football fields as shown on this figure:
 
Each submunition is often activated as it falls so it will explode above or on the ground, however, the failure rate of submunitions is high and the unexploded ordinance lie on the ground as shown in this photo:
 
 
Here is a video showing the delivery of a CBU 105 cluster bomb:
 
 
Here is a screen capture from Textron Defense Systems outlining the features of the CBU 105:
 
Each CBU 105 disperses 10 BLU-108 canisters that each release four submunitions for a total of 40 submunitions per bomb.  These submunitions engage a target and explode above the ground, projecting an explosive jet of fragmented metal in a downward direction.
 
According to the Cluster Munitions Monitor, 34 states have developed or produced more than 200 types of cluster munitions.  Half of these producing nations have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions and have ceased their production as shown on this table:
 
This leaves 17 nations that still either produce cluster munitions or reserve the right to do so as shown on this table:
 
On the upside, the United States instituted a policy in 2001 that all submunitions produced after fiscal year 2005 must have a failure rate of less than 1 percent as shown on this letter from the Secretary of Defense:
 

On the downside, in 2011, the United States disclosed that it has roughly 6 million cluster munitions in its inventory.  
 
Cluster munitions are notorious for killing civilians because they have very wide area effects and cannot distinguish between combatants and civilians.  As well, when cluster munitions are used, they leave behind a residue of dangerous, unexploded ordinance.
 
Over the past 70 years, almost every part of the world has experienced the use of cluster munitions as shown on this table:
 
 

Here is a table summarizing the states that have used cluster munitions and where they have used them: 
 

Cluster munitions have been used by 20 states during armed conflicts in 36 countries and four disputed territories, including the recent hostilities in both Syria and Ukraine.  According to HRW, Syrian forces have used at least 249 cluster munitions in 10 of the country's governorates between July 2012 and July 2014.  In 2012 and 2013, there were 1584 Syrian casualties stemming from the use of cluster munitions, 97 percent of which were civilians.     
 
On December 3rd and 4th, 2008, the Convention on Cluster Munitions was signed in Oslo, Norway and was entered into force on August 1st, 2010.  As of March 2015, 116 states have joined the Convention which bans the use of cluster munitions.  According to the Convention, a cluster munition is defined as “a conventional munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms, and includes those explosive submunitions.”  
 
Here is a link to the document and here is a list of the nations that have joined the Convention as both States Parties and Signatories:
 
 
You will notice that the United States, China and Russia have not signed the Convention.
 
Prior to the start of the Convention, 91 countries stockpiled millions of cluster munitions which contained more than 1 billion submunitions,  Under the Convention, by 2013, 22 States Parties had destroyed 1.03 million cluster munitions which contained nearly 122 million submunitions.  This represents 71 percent of the cluster munitions and 69 percent of the submunitions that were declared stockpiled by the States Parties.  In 2012 alone, 173,973 cluster munitions and 27 million submunitions were destroyed by Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and other States Parties. 
 
I apologize for all of the background but it is important that we understand America's role in the ongoing use of cluster munitions.  Let's now look at the recent evidence showing that cluster munitions have been used in Yemen by the Saudis:

 
Here is a video showing several small parachutes descending from the sky, exploding in mid-air just as the cluster munitions exploded in the video of the CBU 105 cluster bomb:
 
 
HRW interpretations of satellite imagery of the area suggests that the cluster munitions landed within 600 metres of several dozen buildings in four to six village clusters in the western part of Saada governorate in Yemen. 
 
Under existing U.S. policies, the use and export of the CBU 105 is permitted and in August 2013, the United States Department of Defence concluded a contract with Textron Defence Systems for $640.786 million that would provide 13000 cluster bomb units for Saudi Arabia by December 31, 2015 as shown on this screen capture:
 
From what Human Rights Watch has found, thanks to the fresh supply of cluster munitions from the United States, innocent Yemenis have another thing to fear.

Click HERE to read more of Glen Asher's columns

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