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« Stuff | Main | Brown's plight »

May 28, 2008

Comments

John-Paul Pagano

There is one state, Laos, where unexploded ordnance remains a serious threat to civilians. But Laos is an exception.

Warnings about mines in Cambodia are still current. Both mainstream travel books and the US State Department counsel tourists never to explore rural areas without a local guide. This is true in several provinces. It may be that the casualty rate is higher in Laos, but surely mines are still a significant danger to civilians in Cambodia. Am I missing something?

Kellie Strøm

I'm no expert on munitions, but I find this unconvincing. I wasn't under the impression that NATO forces were short of means of destroying tanks and airfields, and I can't see how properly targeted rockets or artillery against such targets would increase civilian deaths, which seems to be part of your argument.

It also seems illogical to argue that "the best means of limiting the civilian casualties of cluster bombs is in increasing the weapons' reliability and precision rather than banning them" as even the most reliable bomb stands a greater chance of killing the wrong person than no bomb at all. Even without taking the sentence too literally, isn't the reliability problem inherent in the nature of the weapon, as the more individual explosives there are, and the smaller they are, the more undetected unexploded bombs will remain after the fighting is over?

Oliver Kamm

The K-5 mine belt in Cambodia poses a great danger to civilians - far more so than cluster munitions. Cluster munitions represent a minuscule fraction of global explosive remnants of war (ERW), and the danger from them is different from that of land mines. Cluster munitions are dangerous when they don't work as planned, i.e. they don't explode and then pose a danger if civilians disturb them later. Land mines are dangerous when they do work as planned.

It is clearly true that even the most reliable bomb poses a greater risk to civilians than no bomb. But bombs will be used in warfare, and it's a mistake to describe cluster munitions as indiscriminate. They are area weapons, but they are used against specific military targets stretching across areas of a few hundred metres either side. The quite different problem of land mines in Cambodia is that they stretch for hundreds of miles along the border with Thailand. There are many ways that a treaty on cluster munitions might reduce the dangers to civilians - requiring, e.g., a certain technological level of fusing mechanism, making it more likely that a munition will explode when fired and less likely that an unexploded munition will detonate when handled; and pooling resources in clearing unexploded munitions after a conflict. This isn't that type of treaty. Instead of diminishing the threat to civilians, it throws up new problems instead.

Alcuin

I am a little surprised at Oliver's position on this. Cluster weapons are not as bad as anti-personnel mines, but neither are they sophisticated. The British BL-755 is intended as an unguided anti-tank weapon, dating from the days when tanks required low level interdiction. The French Duraldal and British JP233 are anti-airfield weapons with both cratering bombs and area-denial mines. JP233 was used in the Gulf War, found wanting due to the need for almost suicidal low flying and scrapped. The US has some stand-off weapons with similar effect.

The military case for these weapons is now far weaker due to smart (GPS or laser guided) bombs and devastating DU anti-tank darts. Stand-off anti-airfield dispenser weapons have a case, but the anti-tank bombs do not.

Alcuin

I am a little surprised at Oliver's position on this. Cluster weapons are not as bad as anti-personnel mines, but neither are they sophisticated. The British BL-755 is intended as an unguided anti-tank weapon, dating from the days when tanks required low level interdiction. The French Duraldal and British JP233 are anti-airfield weapons with both cratering bombs and area-denial mines. JP233 was used in the Gulf War, found wanting due to the need for almost suicidal low flying and scrapped. The US has some stand-off weapons with similar effect.

The military case for these weapons is now far weaker due to smart (GPS or laser guided) bombs and devastating DU anti-tank darts. Stand-off anti-airfield dispenser weapons have a case, but the anti-tank bombs do not.

Gavin

I would agree that the ostensible problem with cluster munitions is primarily a fusing problem. What interests me is how the banning cluster munitions follows the customary path of least resistance when attempts are made to exert international legal controls on conflict on humanitarian grounds; I'm not suggesting that such an approach is invalid, but I do think it has problems of objectivity and proportionality. If civilian casualties were the critical issue, controlling access to AK-47's and improvised bombs would be the primary objective. The whole cluster-bomb issue seems to me to hark back to Sartre and Russell, where war-crimes are determined according to the agency involved.

Kellie Strøm

Controlling access to AK-47s &c. is certainly a primary objective for us and our allies in current conflicts, but to succeed it is necessary to have authority, to have legitimacy in the eyes of the population there and here. That surely is why a ban on cluster bombs can be strategically advantageous. I recognize though that were it to succeed attention would most likely focus on some other type of weapon only in the hands of large armed forces.

Gavin

Kellie, fair enough, but the credibility issue goes both ways: I'm glad to hear that controlling access to AK-47's is a primary objective to you and your allies, but I'd be more reassured when such efforts received even a fraction of the hype which surrounds the banning of cluster bombs, and when criticising the agencies involved demanded more than operating within the usual leftie comfort zone of bashing the Americans/West in isolation.

Kellie Strøm

Gavin, I agree completely. For the sake of clarity, when I wrote 'us' I meant the UK, the US and the rest of NATO.

Daniel Simpson

The treaty's greatest impact will be not in protecting civilians but in hampering the military capability of the states that are most scrupulous in limiting the destructiveness of warfare.

Please defend this argument with reference to the civilian death toll in Lebanon two summers ago. Good luck.

Tim Newman

There are many ways that a treaty on cluster munitions might reduce the dangers to civilians - requiring, e.g., a certain technological level of fusing mechanism, making it more likely that a munition will explode when fired and less likely that an unexploded munition will detonate when handled; and pooling resources in clearing unexploded munitions after a conflict.

Were the all the munitions in cluster bombs to explode on impact, it would defeat the purpose of the cluster bomb in the first place. The idea behind the cluster bomb is to spread a variety of munitions over a wide area, some which explode immediately, some timed to detonate later, some when disturbed, etc. which denies use of the area to the enemy, who must invest considerable time and efforts in getting the area cleared.

Israel's use of cluster bombs against Lebanon in summer 2006 was done so with the intention of denying huge areas south of the Litani river to Hezbollah forces, with considerable success. Banning the use of cluster bombs or rendering them ineffective would certainly improve the lives of civilians caught up in the aftermath, but it would also remove an advantage from the side using them - which are always recognisable, relatively responsible government forces as opposed to unaccountable guerilla groups who will know doubt be delighted with the latest efforts to ban one of the weapons which is effective against them.

Daniel Simpson

it would also remove an advantage from the side using them - which are always recognisable, relatively responsible government forces

i) Why might the fiendishly unaccountable evildoers get their hands on nukes but not a few stray cluster bombs? Please don't cite 'relatively responsible government' arguments without reference to Pakistani proliferation.

ii) What was the relative responsibility in the ratio of civilians killed in Lebanon in summer 2006?

PhilR

" Controlling access to AK-47s is certainly a primary objective for us and our allies" Yeah right

Maybe you and your allies should get on with it then instead of grandstanding in the media, i do not respect you or your arguments, you are just one more communist idiot working against the interests of the west.

The lebanon argument cuts no ice either as nothing at all would have been dropped on anyone without hezbollahs rocket attacks, no rockets equals no cluster bombs.
Simple realy.

Funny how all this humanitarian blather always focuses on the west, its almost as if there's an agenda or something.

Kellie Strøm

PhilR, you've misunderstood me. The 'us and our allies' that I refer to are UK, US, NATO and allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan who are trying to ensure that the governments of those countries have a monopoly on the use of AK-47s &c.

On Lebanon, the problem with cluster bombs there is that they kill and maim others than those responsible for the rocket attacks and abductions. The aim should be to separate the terrorists from the general population, not bind them more closely together.

Gavin

PhilR, bizarrely enough, while I have little patience with the selective morality involved in much so-called humanitarian activism, and I'm dubious about the campaign to ban cluster bombs for that reason, I think it's worth remembering that specific arms limitations measures can offer some positive value in marginally limiting the destructiveness of warfare; chemical weapons and expanding bullets being a case in point.

Mark

Part of OK's defence of cluster munitions is that 'they are effective against moving or dispersed targets such as tank formations and airfields'
So how many tank divisions and jets did Hezbollah possess in summer 2006 ?

Tim Niblett

30 seconds with Google finds http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0207/p01s01-wome.html, referring to cluster bombs in Lebanon. I don't understand how you can make what seems a transparently false assertion about only Laos being a problem when even a cursory search contradicts you. If these other reports are false, then that would be interesting, but since you don't even address the issue I am left bemused at the lack of scholarship as its something you profess to value.

Oliver Kamm

I suspect I could have worked out for myself that the research invested in your comment amounted to 30 seconds with Google, thanks. Even taking account of Israel's intervention in Lebanon in 2006, the number of casualties from cluster munitions has declined every year since the Iraq war in 2003. Cluster munitions casualties are a small fraction - around a tenth - of the figure for landmine casualties, about 3% of the figure for total ERW casualties, and an unknown but minuscule fraction of the casualties from the trade in military-grade small arms.

There is a serious global problem, and a threat to civilian lives and welfare, from abandoned and unsecure weapons, as demonstrated by the explosion of an arms depot at Maputo last year. Those are areas where diplomatic pressure and agreement might produce substantial results. A treaty on cluster munitions produces limited results, diverts resources from other areas, and makes more difficult the task of US forces in countering certain types of targets. Eliminating cluster munitions might well increase the number of civilian casualties of military actions against area targets, by requiring more artillery platforms and aircraft to support forces in the field. More projectiles does not make warfare safer.

Joshua

As ever, Oliver, your grasp on reality is as thin as the hair on my head. The US acts as a world policeman, protecting the innocent and upholding the law, eh? Only 3% of total ERW casualties, eh? It's my reckoning that about 3% of the worlds population believes in "America the Benign". If we could wipe out that 3%, what a wonderful world it would be. Maybe you could all build a giant spaceship, as you are so terrified by "the masses", and fly off into the unknown.
Maybe you are thinking "But us 3% keep you 94% safe from the other 3%". Well build them a giant ship aswell and send them in the opposite direction.
You 3% who "keep us safe", kill more of us than the other 3% ever could. The 3% in Iraq didn't even kill 3% of the total that the "coalition" 3% killed.
You 3% who "share our values" share more with the other 3%. We 94% would gladly share our values with you.
"But we have the moral authority!", you cry. But you only have it over the other 3%. We 94% have the moral authority over you.
We 94% should recognise the power of our moral authority and add you both to our number. 100%, human.

patricia

Disgusting.

Laos?

How about Israel and Lebanon?

But don t worry Oli, just 'cos civilised countries ban them, Israel won't have to.

After all - when else has it obeyed international law?

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