Cluster bombs are weapons that release hundreds of smaller explosives over a wide area, causing indiscriminate damage and long-term risks to civilians. The US has been one of the major producers and users of cluster bombs in the world, despite international condemnation and calls for a ban.
The US has used cluster bombs in several countries since the 1990-91 Gulf War, including Bosnia, Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The US also supplied cluster bombs to Israel, which used them in Lebanon in 1978 and 2006, violating the legal agreement with the US that restricted their use to defensive purposes. Most recently, the US has considered providing cluster bombs to Ukraine, amid its conflict with Russia-backed separatists.
Human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and many governments have widely criticized the use of cluster bombs by the US and its allies. Cluster bombs are considered to be inherently indiscriminate and disproportionate, as they affect both military and civilian targets, and leave behind unexploded submunitions that can kill or injure people for years or decades after the initial attack.
According to some estimates, cluster bombs have caused more than 10,000 casualties worldwide, mostly civilians and one-third of them children. One of the most affected countries is Laos, where the US dropped an estimated 260 million cluster munitions between 1964 and 1973, during the Vietnam War. More than 11,000 people have been killed by unexploded ordnance in Laos since then, and less than 1% of the contaminated land has been cleared.
In 2008, more than 120 countries adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster bombs. The convention also requires states to destroy their existing stockpiles, clear affected areas, and assist victims. However, the US has refused to join the treaty, along with other major producers and users of cluster bombs.
The US has argued that cluster bombs are a legitimate and effective weapon that can reduce collateral damage by hitting multiple targets in a single strike. The US has also claimed that it has improved the reliability and accuracy of its cluster munitions and that it follows strict rules of engagement to minimize civilian harm. However, these arguments have been challenged by evidence from the field and by experts who say that cluster bombs are inherently inaccurate and unreliable.
The US decision to reverse its policy of phasing out cluster bombs in 2017 was strongly criticized by human rights advocates and former military officials. They warned that the move would undermine global efforts to ban cluster bombs, increase civilian casualties, damage the US reputation and credibility, and endanger US troops who may encounter unexploded submunitions in future operations.
As the world marks the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions this year, the US remains isolated from most states that have renounced cluster bombs as unacceptable weapons. The US should reconsider its position and join the global movement to end the use of cluster bombs once and for all.