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U.S. Commits to Reducing Collateral Damage from Cluster Bombs

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2008 – U.S. officials share the concerns of some 100 countries that gathered in Norway today to sign a treaty banning cluster bombs, but the United States opted not to sign the treaty, a Pentagon spokesman said.

“We are obviously concerned about unintended harm to civilians as a result of the whole range of munitions out there that are used in war,” Bryan Whitman said. “It is for that reason that we have taken a leading role in the negotiations on cluster munitions, but within the framework of the [United Nations] Convention on Conventional Weapons.”

The CCW, he explained, includes all nations that produce cluster munitions, including China and Russia. Like the United States, these countries declined to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions agreement today in Oslo.

Whitman emphasized that the United States is committed to protecting civilians and civilian infrastructure from the unintended consequences of unexploded munitions.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates signed new standards for cluster bombs in early July that aim to strike a critical balance between operational requirements and safety concerns. The goal, officials explained, is to reduce collateral effects of cluster munitions used to pursue legitimate military objectives.

The new policy is designed to eliminate the number of bomblets dispersed by cluster bombs that don’t explode on impact. It sets new safety standards that, by 2018, would require 99 percent of all bomblets to explode on contact.

The new policy is aimed at eliminating the chance that the bombs could remain active and pose a potential threat to civilians on the ground after the hostilities, Whitman explained.

Defense officials have expressed concern that an outright ban on cluster munitions would create a critical capability gap.

Future adversaries are likely to use civilian shields for military targets -- for example, by placing a military target on the roof of an occupied building, officials said. Under circumstances like that, officials said, cluster bombs would cause fewer civilian casualties and damage than other, far more destructive weapons.

In addition to improving its cluster munitions, the United States has spent $1.4 billion since 1993 to clean up land mines and other explosives, Whitman said.

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