Most of the world’s nations met today in Oslo, Norway to sign a treaty banning the use, stockpile, transfer, and manufacture of cluster munitions. Among those agreeing to the ban were most NATO members, including Britain, France, Germany, and Australia. Conspicuously absent were Russia, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and the world’s largest manufacturer of such weapons, the United States.
The US State Department defended the decision, claiming that signing the ban would put US soldiers at risk. The US has been at the center of most recent high profile cluster munitions uses. During the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the United States littered the Afghan countryside with cluster munitions. Making matters worse, they dropped food aid for the civilian populace in packages the same color and of similar appearance to the bomblets. The Pentagon eventually decided to change the color of the food packages, but the incident proved a major embarrassment for the invasion forces. Afghanistan announced today that it would become a last-minute surprise signatory to the ban.
Perhaps even more noteworthy, the United States rushed a shipment of cluster munitions to Israel during its 2006 invasion of Southern Lebanon, which the Israeli military proceeded to scatter around hundreds of locations in Lebanon in the waning days of the war, in a move they insisted was “self defense.” The bomblets have continued to kill and maim civilians and foreigners dispatched to aid in their clean-up for the past two years. International outrage over this use, perhaps more than any other, was the catalyst for today’s ban. How much value the treaty will have without the weapon’s largest users remains to be seen.