Sunday, June 1, 2008

On the wrong side again

This week saw the United States of America once again end up on the wrong side of an important weapons systems restrictions treaty. In 1997, it was the Convention to Ban the Use of Land Mines that the United States failed to sign on to. This week it was the Convention on Cluster Munitions more commonly known as cluster bombs.

Like land mines, cluster bombs are an abhorrent device, they are canisters packed with small bombs, called bomblets that spread over a large area when a canister is dropped from a plane or fired from the ground. While this sounds bad enough in and of itself, the real kicker is that like land mines, cluster bombs frequently kill civilians and other innocent bystanders to conflict. Cluster bombs are designed to explode on impact, but frequently do not. The unexploded munitions have killed and maimed thousands in much the same manner that the widely scattered land mines of the past several decades killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of non-combatants.

How on Earth can the United States oppose a treaty to ban the use of these weapons?

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, Stephen D. Mull, "We decided not to go to Oslo, because we don't want to give weight to a process that we think is ultimately flawed, because we don't think that any international effort is going to succeed unless you get the major producers and the users of these weapons at the table."

Among the countries that lined up with the United States in refusing to sign on to the convention, the totalitarian People's Republic of China, Pakistan, otherwise known as, the military dictatorship that gave North Korea the Bomb, Vladimir Putin's Russia, along with the Israelis and the Indians. Quite a group of luminaries that America sided with. It is worth noting that the most recent documented use of cluster bombs was during Israel's 2006 conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon. America has not, as yet, used cluster bombs in Iraq.

The Washington Post quoted Navy Commander, Bob Mehal, a Pentagon spokesman, "...cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility, and their elimination from U.S. stockpiles would put the lives of our soldiers and those of our coalition partners at risk."

Sweet. The logic underlying this premise would allow the use of any effective weapons systems; napalm, fire bombing, flamethrowers, land mines, even nuclear weapons. The argument being, if it has demonstrated military utility, there is nothing the United States of America rules out. Awful. Much like the Bush II doctrine of preemptive war, this logic is untenable in the long haul. It begets a kill or be killed mentality that has been implicit in humanity's worst moments.

Twenty some odd years ago Sting thought we humans had cottoned on to it when he wrote the lyrics,

"There's no such thing as a winnable war. It's a lie that we don't believe anymore"

Two years earlier, Matthew Broderick and a computer had discovered in Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes screenplay for the Cold War set, War Games,

"The only way to win the game (global thermal nuclear war,) is not to play."

What happened?

This week the United States undermined the principle behind those two quotes, moving closer to, rather than further from, global annihilation. It was a step in the wrong direction.

It is worth noting that while the United States rejected the Convention on Cluster Munitions under George Bush the II, it refused to sign the Convention to Ban the Use of Land Mines under Clinton I. This is especially important to recognize when Hillary Clinton is now excoriating Barack Obama for his military and foreign policy naivete. What Obama really proposes is change, a move away from group think, a willingness to work outside the confines of the military industrial complex's box.

A final point, a nuanced one at that, the Clarion mentioned earlier that the United States had not yet used cluster bombs in Iraq. NATO's European states have insured, as a matter of policy, NATO troops, including the United States's personnel, do not use cluster bombs in Afghanistan. In fact, the United States has barred the foreign sale of cluster bombs that do not have a 99% detonation rate on impact. A small step to be sure, but a step. Unfortunately, absent a unilateral ban, which the Convention on Cluster Munitions calls on signatories to impose with eight years, and the Clarion strongly supports, America will have to count on Pentagon auditors to insure only "good" cluster bombs are being sold. It will have to count on its military commanders to insure that no cluster bombs are being used.

Some solace.

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