Bomb Haters, Unite!
29 May, 2008
By Anwaar Hussain
Who was it that said, if you live with a cripple, you would learn to limp.
Walk down a busy Kabul street and try coming back unscarred.
Legless men rattle down bazaars in wheelbarrows, little children with missing limbs crab along like some decapods, one-legged men hobble about on ugly crutches among the throng of people. The common threads; they are all war victims, they are all beggars. Welcome to the land of the wretched.
Perhaps no other place on earth has a larger proportion of disabled citizens living out their miserable existences in such heart rending circumstances as Afghanistan. Three decades of war, millions of mines and unexploded ordinance (UXO) for children to trip over, not to include the hordes of suicide bombers now killing in the name of God, have turned Afghanistan into a wasteland of the mutilated and the crippled.
War-related disabilities, primarily loss of limbs, account for an overwhelming proportion of non-birth-defect cases. Cluster munitions and land mines are among the main causes. Out of a population of 25 million, 123,000 Afghans have directly been so incapacitated by war and its consequences.
The Afghans are not alone in their suffering though. Owing to these horrific weapons of war, countless more human beings today live in similar misery in Laos, Iraq, Chechnya, Kosovo, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Of the two weapons, landmines are the deadlier ones. Let us, however, concentrate on the lesser evil today. It will give us some idea about the greater one too. Here is a brief backgrounder on cluster munitions;
A total of 34 states are known to have produced over 210 different types of air-dropped, surface-launched, or submarine-launched cluster munitions including projectiles, bombs, rockets, missiles, and dispensers. Cluster munitions are stockpiled by at least 75 states and have been used in at least 24 countries and disputed territories. A minimum of 13 states have transferred over 50 types of cluster munitions to around 60 other states as well as non-state armed groups.
An estimated 50 million submunitions were used in the 1991 Gulf War, 1.8 to 2 million in Iraq in 2003, 295,000 in Serbia/Kosovo in 1999, 4 million in Lebanon and 248,000 in Afghanistan in 2001/2002. With a dud rate of 2 to 6 percent, millions of these UXO are waiting to turn thousands more into ugly cripples any time.
Existing cluster munitions contain billions of individual explosive submunitions. The reported active stockpiles on the United States’ inventory alone contain nearly 730 million submunitions. Stockpiles in Russia and China are likely to be comparable in scale.
The US sold 7,087 early-generation cluster bombs (CBU-52, CBU-58, CBU-71), containing 4 million submunitions, to Greece, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Thailand between 1970 and 1995. She also transferred over 61,000 surplus artillery projectiles, containing 8.1 million submunitions, to Bahrain and Jordan between 1995 and 2001. BL-755 cluster bombs produced in the UK have been exported to, or ended up being possessed or used by, 15 other countries. Cluster munitions of Soviet origin are reported to be in the stockpiles of 22 countries.
Though there are several types of cluster munitions on the inventory of various countries, let us talk of just one type; the BL-755 bomb.
A total of 52,500 BL-755 bombs were produced containing 7.7 million submunitions. This bomb has an average submunition dud rate of 6.4 percent based on 15 years of tests. BL-755 bombs have been removed from the inventories of Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and United Kingdom. These bombs are still retained by India, Iran, Italy, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Thailand and United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The bomblets contained in the existing world stockpiles of Rockeye and CBU-87 bombs are around 23 million and 17 million respectively. While most of the inventory holders have removed these weapons from their stockpiles, Pakistan, India, Israel and the United States continue to hold these.
Many cluster munitions in stockpiles are nearing or are beyond the end of their storage life and will become dangerous to use. Prolonged storage may also increase the number of unexploded submunitions left after use. The manufacturers claim that to lessen collateral damage, time delayed self destruct devices are now being used in these munitions. Self-destruct devices, however, can give militaries a false impression that cluster munitions are safe to use in populated areas. Failure rates in combat conditions are invariably higher than those established by production acceptance or surveillance testing regimes. Self-destruct has not proven to be sufficiently effective or reliable solution.
Vast majority of cluster munitions are not sophisticated weapons any way. Most are demonstrated to be unreliable and inaccurate with neither the dispensers nor the submunitions being guided. Many stockpiles are approaching or are well beyond 20 years of storage life and most are not designed to reduce or minimize UXO problem as the weapons were not intended to be used in areas to which users would be returning.
Just to give the reader an idea about the severity of the problem, the one month long conflict in southern Lebanon in 2006 left a land area estimated at 37 million square meters contaminated with close to one million unexploded submunitions.
Here is a bit of good news that should put a smile on the faces of the would-be victims of these weapons i.e. you and me. On 28th May 2008, in Oslo, Norway, more than 100 governments have agreed on a draft convention to ban cluster bombs. The agreement outlaws the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of this weapon. It also entails a commitment to remove cluster bombs from national arsenals within eight years and to provide for the welfare of the victims of cluster bombs. 111 states are expected to approve the draft text on Friday the 29th May, the final day of the conference. It will be signed in December in Oslo.
The bad news; just like in the landmine treaty of 1997, the biggest producers/inventory holders/users/likely users of cluster bombs the United States, Israel, China, Russia, India and yes the land of the pure Pakistan are among the chief opponents of the treaty making it unclear what effect it will have once it comes into power.
Bomb haters, unite!
Others can smile at their own risk and try remembering who was it that said, if you live with a cripple, you would learn to limp.