Big Names Take Aim at Cluster Bombs

Big Names Take Aim at Cluster Bombs
Sir Cyril Townsend, Arab News

In a rapidly changing media world, it is agreeable to note that the Letters Column of The Times of London has altered little. Letters are still addressed to The Editor, and begin with Sir and end Yours Faithfully. Although The Daily Telegraph, a kind of daily briefing for the professional classes, sells more copies, The Times has a greater influence, and it is the first choice for an individual or an organization seeking to put forward a point of view on the issues of the day.

On May 19, there was a letter in The Times that caught my eye under the heading:

“Cluster bombs don’t work and must be banned.”

It was signed by no less than nine former extremely senior military commanders led by Field Marshal Lord Bramall (chief of the Defense Staff — 1982-85). Other names were Gen. Sir Michael Rose (commander UN Protection Force, Bosnia — 1994-95), Gen. Sir Rupert Smith (commander 1st Armored Division in the 1991 Gulf War) and Maj. Gen. Patrick Cordingley (commander 7th Armored Brigade 1991 Gulf War).

The letter’s opening paragraph gives the flavor:

“We write to urge the government of the United Kingdom to give up its remaining stocks of cluster munitions and agree the strongest possible ban on the weapon in the treaty negotiations in Dublin starting today. Such a treaty will establish a new benchmark for the responsible projection of force in the modern world.”

It went on to mention some of the problems associated with cluster bombs:

“…cluster munitions also pose a threat to our own forces, the US 3rd Infantry Division describing them as “battlefield losers”, after the 2003 conflict in Iraq, because they were often forced to advance through area contaminated with unexploded “duds.” Furthermore, they are a threat to the military and civilian clearance teams that must make the land safe in the wake of conflict, for reconstruction purposes.”

The international negotiators meeting in Dublin represent more than 100 countries. Their discussions flow from the Oslo process, started in Norway in 2007, and the idea is to have an agreement reached by May 30. It is hoped it will be agreed to ban most of these terrifying weapons, which are designed to release clusters of little bombs.

As Lebanon knows only too well, for Israel used many cluster bombs during the conflict with Hezbollah in 2006 fought mainly in Lebanon, the little bombs are sprayed over a surprisingly wide area and remain alert and highly dangerous for years to come. Inevitably, they kill and maim civilians, and their animals, long after the conflict has faded from the memories of people living away from the region.

I think cluster bombs are a disgrace to our civilization, and the sooner they are taken out of the arsenals of all nations and destroyed the better. But this is not going to happen. Many of the big boys decided not to attend the Dublin conference — the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan. They are not prepared to play at all. I suspect the Americans know little of this Dublin meeting, but are they happy to be bracketed with Russia and China?

The United Kingdom is sticking its neck out at the Dublin Conference, as it is calling for exemptions from the ban for certain weapon systems, which it is claimed self-destruct if they fail to detonate. (In reality, they may not). The weapons the United Kingdom has in mind are the M73 fired from rockets on a helicopter, each containing a few sub-munitions, and the M85 delivered by artillery shells, each containing a large number of sub-munitions.

The former, it is suggested, is important for the effective employment of Apache helicopters. British officials believe both weapons could be required in a future war to deal with advancing enemy tanks.

Cluster bombs were invented in Cold War days, when it was feared hundreds of Soviet tanks could pour out from the Fulda Gap in Germany. Times have changed. I would need convincing that exemptions are essential. The more loopholes there are the more arms manufacturers will seek to exploit them.

It is the opinion of Simon Conway, Director of Land-Mine Action:

“If Britain is to be a force for good in the world, the government should totally ban these weapons — no exemptions, no loopholes.”

The retired military commanders in their letter wrote:

“If we are to be accepted as legitimate users of force then we must demonstrate our determination to employ that force only in the most responsible and accountable way.”

The new international treaty being worked on now in Dublin has the potential to save numerous civilian lives for decades to come. It would be splendid if the United Kingdom, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, could give a lead.

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