December 04, 2008

Pointless Cluster Bomb Ban Signed

92 nations signed a ban on cluster bombs yesterday, a move that is more or less meaningless as the largest producers and users of such munitions—including Russia, China, and the United States—refused to sign on.

Cluster bombs are composed of grenade-sized bomblets inside a air-delivered bomb, missile, or artillery shell. Once the larger shell reaches the target area, it disperses the bomblets over a wider area than could be covered by a single conventional bomb. Cluster bombs are particularly effective against concentrations of dismounted infantry, unarmored targets such as supply depots, refueling stations, airfields, and supply convoys, and lightly armored targets, such as armored personnel carriers and self-propelled artillery.

While cluster bombs are effective area weapons, the bomblets have an unacceptably higher failure rate. Typically several grenade-sized bomblets in a cluster bomb fail to detonate, leaving live, fused explosives on the ground that are a significant threat to civilians long after the military conflict is over.

Cluster bombs have a legitimate military use, and I doubt cluster bombs will disappear from inventories in the next few decades, but perhaps technological advances could render them less of a lingering threat. Using explosives that degrade quickly within minutes of deployment would be one possible way to minimize the threat left by unexploded bomblets, and perhaps another avenue would be to go the opposite route, using highly corrosive explosives that disable a bomblet's fuse and "eat" the unexploded bomblet from the inside out, leaving a relatively inert husk.

Small diameter bombs (SDBs) or other weapons systems will eventually make cluster munitions obsolete, but a coalition of the toothless signing bans against munition systems that they cannot effectively manufacture or deploy in combat will not have any meaningful long-term impact.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at December 4, 2008 09:13 AM

More mental masturbation at it's finest! Guess we'll just have to go back to doing H&I fire with napalm and willie pete....which you have to admit is just as spectacular and very deadly. Oh well, whatever gets the job done, while protecting the environment and the innocents!

Posted by: Tonto at December 4, 2008 09:56 AM

The Liberals are already calling cluster-bombs a WMD.

They don't consider ricin or sarin WMDs, but yet they pick a conventional weapon like cluster-bombs.

They told me that any non-nuclear weapon "doesn't count" as a WMD. Double-think at it's finest.

I still remember back a few years ago when they went ape over WP. They claimed that it counts as a WMD chemical weapon, because, get this, it has a chemical reaction.

Posted by: brando at December 4, 2008 10:19 AM

There are still unexploded munitions buried in farm fields in France from WWI. Every so often a farmer, unfortunately, gets blown up. It sucks, but as long as war is a reality, then so are the unfortunate side effects.

These bans are no different than civilian gun bans in the U.S. They're all well and good until you come upon a country (criminal) who doesn't care about cluster bomb treaties (gun laws).

Maybe the world would be a better place if these people tried harder to avoid conflict altogether instead of worrying about limiting civilian casualties. The problem might resolve itself.

In the meantime, there's no good reason for us to try and limit our capability, in effect tying one hand behind our back.

Posted by: Mike Gray at December 4, 2008 10:40 AM

When I was a young 'un, the weapons we now characterize as WMD were known as NCB - Nuclear, Chemical, Biological.

I wonder who was responsible for the change in terminology to the more emotive "weapons of mass destruction"?

Of these weapons, the only one that (IMO) is truly a weapon of mass destruction is the nuclear weapon.

And America is the only country that has used weapons of mass destruction to kill thousands of civilians.

Posted by: Suilamhain the Observant at December 4, 2008 11:12 AM

Earlier this year a Richmond area relic hunter was polishing up what he thought was a Civil War cannon ball. Turned out to be a powder filled shell. Pronounced dead on scene. The shell was at least 143 years old and still deadly. At least the signers of the anti-cluster bomb treaty will feel all warm and fuzzy tonight while they're sipping their fair market cocca

Posted by: Stretch at December 4, 2008 12:13 PM

And America is the only country that has used weapons of mass destruction to kill thousands of civilians.

Yea, the thousands in the villages Saddam nerve gassed just got up, shook it off, and walked away like nothing happened...and the Japanese never performed biological experiments on Chinese prisoners either.

Posted by: PA at December 4, 2008 12:50 PM

Good point PA. Bear in mind Suli graciously modified the rules for his statement that only Nukuyler weapons are WMD. So within the very narrow scope he sets, the US is the only nation to succesfully deploy such a system in combat, and yes thousands of civilians were killed in those engagements. Not sure if Suli is actually throwing stones at the US, but I hope he doesn't confuse acts of war with genocide.

More to the point are your (PA's) comments. Saddam deployed chemical area weapons, and the Japanese did experiment with biologics. Additionally, Hitler was fond of the efficiency of gas (>1 million?), while Stalin was more pragmatic (20 million?).

I hope Suli also appreciates that the US is supposedly no longer in the Chem/Bio business, which, as he points out leaves only nuclear as a response to attacks of either of the other two non-conventional types??? I personally have always considered this a very powerful deterent. It certainly seems to have made Saddam think twice in PGW1 (Desert Storm).

Posted by: Gus Bailey at December 4, 2008 01:32 PM
Of these weapons, the only one that (IMO) is truly a weapon of mass destruction is the nuclear weapon.

Utter hogwash, both historically ignorant and patently dishonest.

Of course Suilamhain the Observant would attempt to define WMDs to exclude chemical weapons (or for that matter airliners); to do so allows him to dishonestly paint the United States as the only purveyor of WMD casualties, conveniently ignoring 2400 years of chemical weapons use that started with the Spartans in the Peloponnesian War.

He also seeks ignore the widespread the use of WMD chemical agents in WWI to cause 1,300,000 casualties, (including 90,000 deaths).

Even after WWI, the British, Spanish, and Italians used chemical weapons in the 1920 s and 30s in combat, and the Nazis used Zyklon B in gas chambers to commit the genocide of millions.

Egypt used phosgene and mustard gas again Yemen in the 1960s, and Russian forces used "Yellow Rain" (trichothecene mycotoxins) in regional wars (including Laos, Kampuchea, and Afghanistan) in the 1970s and 1980s.

But it was Iraqi forces under Saddam Hussein that used chemical weapons in greater concentrations and of more kinds than any modern nation including the first confirmed use of nerve agents) in the Iran-Iraq War, and later against the Iraqi people.

The difference in these uses of WMD and the U.S> use of atomic bombs at the end of WWII, was that the United States used atomic bombs to save hundreds of thousands of lives (if not a million or more) that would have been lost if the Allies had been forced into an amphibious invasion and grinding assault on the Japanese homeland.

That's the reality. I'm sorry if Suilamhain the Not-So-Observant would rather ignore those truths.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at December 4, 2008 02:19 PM

Cluster bombs will be replaced by death rays from space that not only kill every living creature in the designated area, it steralizes the area. It will be a useful weapon on any area the size of D.C., which I hope is the first victim of it's use. By the way I'm watching the daily comedy show called 'congressional hearings' on the automobile company bailout as I type this.

Schumer and Dodd questioning the ethics/honest of anyone is a hoot.

Posted by: Scrapiron at December 4, 2008 02:19 PM

"It will be a useful weapon on any area the size of D.C., which I hope is the first victim of it's use."


Posted by: brando at December 4, 2008 02:55 PM

I arrived at DaNang AB, RVN in late 1969, just after the TET attack. My unit was the 366 MMS. The NVA got in a lucky shot and hit the bomb dump at some sensitive point and set off a chain reaction involving one section of the storage yard. Afterwards, there were hundreds, if not thousands of un-exploded ordinance laying around everywhere. Most of the big stuff was un-fused and safe to pick up and dispose of by EOD. The bomblets were very dangerous. Some had spun up and armed but didn't blow up. The rest had just been scattered on the ground. EOD used a big chain drag to blow up the sensitive ones and us new guys got to help pick up the remainder (by hand). I was not a happy troop. At least no one got hurt.

I was amazed at how many 250's and 500's were thrown everywhere and did not explode.

I am thankful that I didn't have to work around things that go BOOM after 4 years.

Posted by: Marc Boyd at December 4, 2008 06:35 PM

As I recall the story, the relic collector killed by the explosives-filled Civil War shell did NOT misidentify it as a solid and therefore cannonball, but instead somehow caused it to explode while attempting to remove the fuse and gunpowder -- something he had done successfully many times before.

Posted by: Calumet7 at December 4, 2008 10:29 PM

And America is the only country that has used weapons of mass destruction to kill thousands of civilians.

Posted by Suilamhain the Observant at December 4, 2008 11:12 AM

If that is supposed to make us feel guilty, you aren't succeeding.

Posted by: iconoclast at December 5, 2008 12:40 AM

I was expressing my opinion that nuclear is the real WMD.

There is no doubt that chemical weapons have killed enormous numbers of people over the years. The difference is that you have to deploy a lot of chemicals to kill a lot of people. Nuclear weapons provide a much greater ROI in terms of killing power.

Of course I was aware of the casualties caused by chemical weapons in WW I, the inter war years, and by Saddam Hussein, which you elaborated on in some detail.

What you didn't mention at any point is that the US supported Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, and continued that support even after his use of chemical weapons became known.

Posted by: Suilamhain the Observant at December 5, 2008 09:15 AM
Nuclear weapons provide a much greater ROI in terms of killing power.

Not even close to being remotely true. It costs billions, if not trillions to develop a nuclear weapons program. Chemical and bioweapon WMD programs to attack similar numbers and create similar casualties are far less expensive, easier to develop, facilities are easier disguise, and deployment methods are for more numerous and unobtrusive, with signatures far less distinctive.

You really don't have the first clue what you are talking about, do you?

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at December 5, 2008 09:25 AM

Errmm, did you read this bit...

"What you didn't mention at any point is that the US supported Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, and continued that support even after his use of chemical weapons became known."

Posted by: Suilamhain the Observant at December 5, 2008 09:31 AM

Yes, Sully, we saw that. It is also utterly irrelevant to the subject at hand.

We also supported the British in WWI when they deployed chemical WMDs, and practiced biowar ourselves in the 1800s by giving the blankets of smallpox victims to Native Americans to infect their tribes. Most large nations have either created WMDs deployed WMDs, or allied themselves with nations who have.

All of that is utterly irrelevant to the subject at hand. This is your first and only troll warning. Keep it up, and you'll be banned, with your inane commentary dismissed.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at December 5, 2008 09:49 AM

I'm perplexed - what exactly is the subject at hand? I simply believe that nuclear weapons are in a different league compared to chemical and bio agents in terms of killing power.

If the US had decided to use chemical means to destroy Hiroshima (or rather kill most of its inhabitants) how many bombers, and what types of bombs and bombing techniques would have to be employed? Methinks it would have been completely unfeasible.

My comment about ROI was not a reference to the costs of developing nuclear weapons. It was a (perhaps badly phrased) way of saying that you can kill far more people with a single nuclear weapon than with a similarly sized chemical weapon.

Can you show me any instance of a similar number of people being killed by a single chemical weapon in a single incident as were killed in Hiroshima or Nagasaki? I think not.

Posted by: Suilamhain the Observant at December 5, 2008 10:07 AM

Perhaps you should look up Operation Downfall... if you really are curious.

Posted by: Patrick Chester at December 5, 2008 11:13 AM

The subject at hand, Suila, was cluster bombs. Brando's comment about how "some are already calling them WMD's" started the process of derailing the thread, and your comment finished the process. Now can we stop talking about something irrelevant to the main topic, and start talking about cluster bombs again?

Posted by: Robin Munn at December 5, 2008 11:19 AM
"What you didn't mention at any point is that the US supported Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, and continued that support even after his use of chemical weapons became known."

Feel free to detail that "support." That canard has already been reduced to rubble, but I'd be happy to make it bounce one more time.

My comment about ROI was not a reference to the costs of developing nuclear weapons.

You should find words that mean what you're trying to say. Return on investment references cost, by definition.

Posted by: Pablo at December 5, 2008 11:46 AM

The world's most deadly WMD, proven by every race, creed, color, and society in history is the human mind. Long before there ever even WAS a USA, mass killing has been a way of life for humanity. The Mongols, the Huns, the Japaneese, the Crusades, the Muslim invasions, the list goes on forever................and that's just a couple examples. We should be used to it by now.

Posted by: Tonto at December 5, 2008 08:32 PM

I must point out that the US never "used" infected blankets,
as is commonly claimed. That has been researched and refuted.

Posted by: Larry at December 6, 2008 09:37 AM

I think that certain individuals want to prohibit the US from using cluster bombs because they're such a good weapon, and they'd love do hamstring the US.

I believe that the failure rate is much too high, but that's not really what this treaty does. It's just a flat out ban of a good weapon. So they just scream that it's illegal when it actually isn't. (Same for WP) What's a reasonable failure rate? 30%? 15%? 9%? Whatever could be achieved would never be good enough for the Liberals, because their goal isn't to get an effective weapon that protects non-combatants, but rather to remove weapons altogether. If the developers get it down to 10%, the Liberals would just move the goalposts again, and demand that it isn't 8%. And so on. CY had some good ideas about how to make them safer, but there would be no way to appease them, because a safe/effective weapon isn't their goal.

See? I wrote a comment without stating how perplexed I am (because I'm not), and also without using the word "Methinks".

Posted by: brando at December 6, 2008 11:59 AM

SDB's are not designed to replace cluster bombs, but rather to reduce collateral damage that would be caused by using a 2K pound bomb to take down a terrorist safe house in the middle of a city.

Posted by: emdfl at December 6, 2008 12:12 PM

Some (in-depth) explanation of that "army used smallpox" story (B.S. that Ward Churchill was pushing before) --

Posted by: Larry at December 6, 2008 01:23 PM

This is really a moot point, made by people with no other agenda than to limit our use of effective weapons. Already we are manufacturing cluster bombs with self-destructing submunitions:

"Submunitions are used to destroy an enemy in place (impact) or to slow or prevent enemy movement away from or through an area (area denial). Impact submunitions go off when they hit the ground. Area-denial submunitions, including FASCAM, have a limited active life and self-destruct after their active life has expired."

From Federation of American Scientists website.

Ultimately, the impact submunitions will all have self-destuct mechanisms limiting the destructive life of the munitions to a few days.

Posted by: douglas at December 7, 2008 03:36 AM

During Vietnam the Soviet stooges tried to argue that .50-cal machine guns were illegal weapons. Someone else mentioned the silly campaign of lies that tried to turn white phosphorous smoke rounds into chemical weapons. This is just another phase in the campaign to turn anything the US does into a crime.

If, somehow, firearms stopped working and the US military adopted Roman arms, they'd find some grounds for declaring the gladius an "illegal weapon".

Posted by: Rob Crawford at December 7, 2008 09:04 AM

The dud rate of CBUs is often caused by operator error not design deficiency. We dropped many cans of CBU-24, 49 and 52 in South East Asia. As a Stormy FAC out of DaNang, we carried 2 cans of CBU52 and found them very useful killing trucks.

The CBUs all use a SUU-30 dispenser - a clam shell, designed to separate safely from the aircraft, arm its radar fuse and open at a pre set altitude above the ground. If you "press" (drop below your planned altitude) the radar fuse may arm below its opening altitude and never see the range. The munition will hit at 12 o'clock and detonate low order, scattering bomblets around the crater.

In a proper delivery, the dispenser opens releasing several hundred soft ball or golf ball sized submunitions. These bomblets have vanes causing them to spin as they fall, arming a contact or delayed fuse through centrifugal motion. If they hit before they arm, they will not detonate.

There is a story about Ramsey Clark visiting POWs in Hanoi in 1971. The NVA had given him an unexploded CBU24 bomblet which he was tossing up in the air and catching. The POWs were almost all pilots. One of them told him to "Spin it faster!" Unfortunately, Clark did not.

One particularly bizarre event in 1972 involved a B52 cell at 28,000 feet dropping low drag Mk-82s from the wing stations and higher drag CBUs from the bomb bay. As the weapons descended, the 500 pounders gradually distanced themselves from the cluster bombs which had armed and were looking for 1,500' above the ground. At an altitude of about 15,000, the radar fuses saw the sticks of iron bombs and opened, scattering the bomblets over miles. The Buffs discontinued their use of CBUs.

Generally, CBUs are very effective against troops in the open.

Posted by: arch at December 7, 2008 12:07 PM

So, as Suilamhain has so aptly demonstrated, the international definition of "WMD" is "whichever weapons the United States uses effectively". If a weapon is used effectively by America's enemies, by definition that is not WMD. Case in point: Whatever happened to the campaign against land mines? Remember when that was a huge deal, Princess Diana and all that? I'll tell you what happened: IED. Yes, an IED is a land mine. And when the internationalists saw that AlQ was using them successfully against American forces in Iraq, the ban-the-land-mines movement went totally silent. See, as long as they're killing Americans, land mines are OK.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at December 9, 2008 07:05 PM