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U.S. Cluster Bomb Policy Undercuts New Treaty

11 July 2008
For Immediate Release

U.S. Cluster Bomb Policy Undercuts New Treaty Banning the Weapon

(Geneva) – A month after 111 nations including major US allies agreed to ban cluster bombs, the United States has announced its new policy on the weapon by stating its intent to continue to use its huge cluster bomb stockpile for another decade.

“This new US. policy on cluster bombs directly attempts to undercut the new Convention on Cluster Munitions that 111 state, including New Zealand, have just negotiated,” said Mary Wareham, coordinator of the Aotearoa New Zealand Cluster Munition Coalition. “Most nations including key US allies such as Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, have agreed to relinquish cluster bombs. How in good conscience can the US wait ten years to accept a lesser standard?”

According to the new policy memorandum signed by Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, the U.S. will also seek to ship cluster bombs to other countries, despite U.S. law prohibiting transfers. After 2018, the US will still use cluster munitions with a claimed failure rate of less than 1 percent, despite wide recognition that a failure rate approach will not prevent unacceptable harm to civilians.

On 30 May 2008, a total of 111 nations agreed to ban cluster bombs when they created the Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international treaty that comprehensively bans the use, production, trade and stockpiling of cluster munitions, no matter what the failure rate. The United States did not participate in the Oslo Process, the diplomatic initiative that resulted in the treaty that will be opened for signature in Oslo, Norway on 3 December 2008.

The United States is the world’s leading user, producer, and exporter of cluster bombs. The new policy will allow the U.S. unfettered use of the nearly 1 billion submunitions now in its stockpiles for the next decade, almost all of which are known to have very high failure rates and to be highly inaccurate, as shown in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Southeast Asia.

In addition to allowing continued use, the U.S. would seek to transfer cluster munitions around the world, even though current law prohibits it. “Shockingly, the new policy states the US will seek to ship cluster munitions with high failure rates to other countries, despite the fact that Congress passed and President Bush signed a law last year banning such trade,” said Wareham. The export market may be limited, as the majority of past recipients of US cluster munitions have banned the weapon.

Cluster bombs are large weapons that contain dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions. They cause unacceptable humanitarian harm in two ways. First, their broad-area effect kills and injures civilians during strikes. Second, many submunitions do not explode, becoming de facto landmines that cause civilian casualties for months or years to come.

Wellington-based Mary Wareham coordinates the Aotearoa New Zealand Cluster Munition Coalition, a campaign comprised of 21 domestic non-governmental organisations. She is also Senior Advisor to the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch, a key international NGO in the campaign against cluster munitions and other indiscriminate weapons.

For key facts on the United States’ use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster munitions, please visit:

For more information on cluster munitions and the newly adopted Convention on Cluster Munitions, please visit:
• General information:
• Types of cluster munitions in global stockpiles:
• Timeline of cluster munitions use:


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