- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Thank God for some common sense at the Pentagon and in the Bush administration.

It is understandable that humanitarian groups (dare we say a cluster of them?) condemn cluster munitions, which are fired from aircraft or artillery and spray smaller bomblets over an area the size of two football fields. Some bomblets don’t explode on impact, and are found much later by unsuspecting civilians, including children, resulting in many unintended casualties. No one would dispute that cluster bombs should not be used indiscriminately. The same applies to all weapons of war.

The U.S. military has kept cluster munitions as a defense against advancing armed forces, although it has not employed them since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Under a policy begun in 2001 by then-Defense Secretary William Cohen and refined by current Secretary Robert Gates, cluster munitions having a dud rate above 1 percent are being depleted and will not be used starting in 2018. Officials argue that technological advances will allow future cluster munitions to explode reliably or disable themselves quickly so they will not be a civilian hazard later. Furthermore, the Pentagon argues that getting rid of these weapons “would put the lives of our soldiers and those of our coalition partners at risk.”

Besides the United States, countries that refused to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions include Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan, all major producers or users of the weapons, and their action - or inaction - is one reason the United States decided not to go to Oslo. Finland earlier this month also decided not to sign. Its defense chief, Adm. Juhani Kaseala, said that had Finland joined the ban, “we would have risked having a significantly weaker and more expensive defense.” For that tiny country, he said, the added cost for purchasing replacement weapons to defend its sparse border with Russia would exceed $1.2 billion.

The 107 nations committed to the ban are a bit over half of the world’s nations. But whether, say, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Botswana, and Burkina Faso (actual adopters) or, say, Liechtenstein, Solomon Islands, Bhutan, and Barbados (actual non-adopters) – sign or don’t sign is really immaterial to the position that the United States is taking. The United States has always stood out militarily because its arsenal can and does defend American soldiers and foreign nations suffering tyranny. While this nation is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it should not forswear the potential - and we stress potential - use of any item in its arsenal. We hope that Barack Obama and team, when in force, consider that.

The United States still needs to walk softly but carry a big stick, as Teddy Roosevelt put it. As the nation called upon by the rest of the free world to protect it in times of distress, it is not in America’s best interest to agree in advance to Marquis of Queensberry rules in a cutthroat world.

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