The Diet has endorsed an international treaty to ban the use, development, production, procurement, stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs. The Upper House unanimously voted to do so Wednesday. The Diet deserves praise for paving the way for Japan to approve at a fairly early date the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which Japan signed in Oslo in December 2008, together with some 90 other countries.
Credit should go to former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who in May 2008 made a last-minute decision that Japan should join the treaty despite opposition from the Self-Defense Forces. So far, eight countries have submitted an instrument of ratification to the United Nations. The treaty goes into effect six months after 30 countries have ratified it.
Civilians can fall victim to cluster bombs long after a military conflict is over. Clustered bomblets that fail to explode after being dropped from the air or launched from the ground can still explode years later. Because of their color and size, unexploded bomblets are often mistaken for toys and children become the victims.
A 2006 study by the nongovernmental organization Handicap International, which covered 24 countries, shows that cluster bombs killed or maimed some 11,000 people over three decades — 98 percent of them civilians and 27 percent children.
Cluster bombs have been used in numerous wars, including World War II, the Vietnam War, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon. More recently, in August 2008, both Russia and Georgia used cluster bombs in the South Ossetia war. The treaty requires signatories to immediately stop using cluster bombs and dispose of their stockpiles within eight years. As a substitute, Japan is considering introducing precision-guided small missiles.
As required by the treaty, Japan should make vigorous efforts to help clear areas abroad contaminated with cluster bombs and to provide care to cluster bomb victims. It must also try in earnest to persuade the leading makers of cluster bombs that are not parties to the treaty — such as the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan — to join it.
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