In your Dec. 1 editorial “Cluster-bomb bombast,” you say, “No one would dispute that cluster bombs should not be used indiscriminately. The same applies to all weapons of war.” This misses the point entirely. More than 100 governments are banning these Cold War-era weapons because they are inherently indiscriminate. This group of governments includes war-fighting nations with sizable arsenals that have used them in the past, such as Britain, as well as the vast majority of our “coalition partners” in Afghanistan - the same partners that, bizarrely, the Pentagon says it must retain cluster bombs to defend.
Cluster bombs are not strategic weapons. When used in civilian-populated areas - as they always are but never were intended to be - they disproportionately harm noncombatants and children both during and after the fighting. Beyond being indiscriminate, these weapons are remarkably unreliable, failing at rates of between 10 percent and 30 percent in most instances of use during the past several decades.
I have observed firsthand the violent legacy of cluster bombs in central Vietnam, where forests and fields are still littered with hundreds of thousands of tons of unexploded ordnance. A boy who lost an arm and a leg to an old cluster bomb made a particularly strong impression on me. To meet a 9-year-old rendered a double amputee by a 40-year-old bomb is to realize the frightening scope and consequences of our military decisions.
This is one lesson of the Vietnam War on which surely we can all agree: When militaries use highly unreliable cluster bombs, the war never ends. Children born decades later are destined to lose their lives and limbs to ordnance left over from their parents’ fights.
If President-elect Barack Obama is serious about changing the direction of U.S. foreign policy, he should sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions during his first months in office.
Friends Committee on National Legislation