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Switzerland just became the 75th state to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The treaty was designed to ban the use of cluster bombs because they often kill civilians when they fall and when they lay around on the ground unexploded. But the United States Air Force loves the things.
The bombs were used during the initial invasion of Iraq. While the Air Force initially wanted a pile of 17,000 bombs, they’ve since settled for a target of 5,000. They’re unguided, uncontrolled, and weigh half of a ton.
The bombs work by dumping 40 hockey-puck style bomblets out during descent, spreading them out over an area around 1,200 ft by 500 ft and carpet bombing 13 acres. They each cost $360,000 minimum.
The controversy of the bombs — manufactured domestically by Textron — lies in its failure rate. A percentage of the submunitions fail to explode, leaving undetonated high explosives lying on the ground.
For instance, in the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, more than a million cluster bombs were used, an estimated 40% of which failed to detonate on impact. The devices caused more civilian casualties in Iraq in 2003 than any other weapon system.
Advocates of the ban claim that one in four casualties of the bombs are civilian children who play with the brightly coloured projectiles well after the end of the conflict.
This can kill people even after the conflict has ended; in fact, human rights organisations estimate that one in four casualties of cluster bombs
As of right now, the United States will have no part in the treaty. During the negotiations, the U.S. ensured that signers could still work with cluster bomb users. That means that the military can still work with the U.K., Afghanistan and most of the European Union.
Still, Switzerland’s agreement to destroy its stockpile is a big win for ban advocates. The signing comes a year after the U.S. agreed to sell India the bombs, so the treaty still has a way to go.
UPDATE: Textron contacted us to clarify some of the details of the newest iteration of clusterbombs. These, they say, are much more precise and safer than their predecessors. To clairfy, it wasn’t a Textron weapon system used in the Israel-Lebanon conflict, and newer editions of the weaponry are designed to have a very low failure rate. Stephen Greene, Textron’s Vice President of Communications, says this about Textron’s new clusterbombs:
In fact, our weapon was designed to address the humanitarian concerns cited in your article and has been proven to do so by the U.S. Air Force and Department of defence. More specifically, the Sensor Fuzed Weapon has a failure rate of less than 0.5%. The system employs advanced fuzing technology and multiple safeguards to ensure that it will not harm noncombatants in the aftermath of a military engagement, and – unlike most legacy cluster munitions – is neither “unguided” nor “uncontrolled.” Additionally, the SFW was not used in the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, nor has it been associated with any civilian casualties in Iraq.”
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