Cluster munitions rank among the most ghastly weapons of war commonly found in arsenals around the world. Dropped from the air or launched from the ground, they explode in midair and release as many as 2,000 submunitions that carpet-bomb targeted areas.
What makes these weapons so reprehensible is their ability to kill and maim indiscriminately. Because they disperse over vast areas, they place civilians at considerable risk — and not only during attacks. Some bomblets fail to explode immediately and lie dormant only to suddenly injure or kill when disturbed — often by children who mistake them for toys and sometimes years after a conflict has ended. According to NGO Handicap International, civilians make up 98 percent of cluster-bomb victims, and almost one-third of them are children.
An international treaty that includes prohibitions on the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs, the U.N. Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted by 107 nations, including Japan, on May 30, 2008, in Dublin. In December of that year it was signed by Japan and 93 other states. To take effect, however, the treaty had to be ratified by 30 countries. On Feb. 16, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced that milestone had been reached. The treaty will enter into force Aug. 1.
While this is a monumental achievement, much work remains to be done before the scourge of cluster bombs is eradicated. The treaty binds only those who have ratified it, and some of the world’s biggest military powers — including China, Russia and the United States — have refused to sign it. Other lesser powers that rely heavily on cluster bombs, such as Israel, Pakistan and India, have also refused to get on board. All argue that cluster bombs have legitimate uses on the battlefield. Even Britain and Italy, which have signed the treaty, have yet to ratify it.
But international outcry against the use of cluster bombs is growing, and countries that continue to stockpile these horrific weapons are feeling the pressure. In July 2008, for example, the U.S. announced that after 2018 it would require 99 percent of its cluster bomblets to detonate immediately. As Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch has pointed out, the unusually rapid speed at which the treaty was ratified “reflects the strong global commitment to get rid of these weapons urgently.”
Japan should work closely with Germany, France and other countries that have ratified the treaty to persuade all the world’s states — and its top military powers in particular — to sign and ratify it. Only after all nations forswear their use will the indiscriminate threat posed by cluster bombs be truly eliminated.
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