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In Opposition to Cluster Munitions

April 18, 2011

Oh, Ex. In Defense of Cluster Munitions? Really? This is just a collection of shaky, unsupportable (and unsupported) arguments.

The first, and primary, argument is that “cluster munitions are just that — munitions. And any weapon or munition, depending on how it is used, can present a threat to civilians.” Okay. I’m with you there. Guns don’t kill people, people do. But, y’know, rocks can present a threat to civilians. Cars can present a threat to civilians. The difference here is that cluster munitions introduce a not-insignificant degree of chance in who gets hit without providing enough benefit to tip the scales in their direction. You said it yourself, “they rarely work as intended.” Nevertheless, it seems that in your calculus, it’s worth preserving the option to use “nasty, nasty” weapons that have a solid track record of killing civilians because… well, actually, I’m not sure. On what grounds do you say they’re “terribly useful” for “defensive, conventional warfare”? Have they proven decisive before? They must be why South Korea hasn’t been attacked… oh wait. So much for that.

I have to assume Ex already knows that the throwaway parenthetical – Also, we’re going to rid ourselves of cluster munitions but keep massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons? – doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The idea that a weapon system should or should not be banned based on whether another weapon system is or is not banned is dubious to begin with, but it’s especially suspect in the case of nuclear weapons. We don’t use our nukes. They’re a deterrent. Are cluster munitions a deterrent? Has anybody not attacked us because we could bring a whole lot of M-26s to bear? No. The size of our nuclear stockpile has exactly nothing to do with whether or not to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions. It’s a false equivalency.

The argument that other major powers felt free to sign the CCM because they live under the U.S. security umbrella is also not much of a defense of cluster munitions. Rephrased, Ex is saying that the United Kingdom can reject the use of cluster munitions, because the UK has the guarantee of US military might to provide security. What does this have to do with cluster munitions? Cluster munitions are fundamentally different from the other examples provided – sufficient supply of bombs and CAS platforms – in that cluster munitions haven’t proven their use in a way that makes them worth the ongoing risk to civilians.

Ex also makes the point on Twitter that these munitions are now being made with disintegrating parts. That’s wonderful (really – I like the idea of weapons that break down over time), but are those the ones being bought and used? Because I can’t imagine making the decision to buy something that I know has an expiration date if a non-perishable version is available. And are those the ones we’ll use, or will we keep using old stock that don’t break down so neatly? Until everybody’s using cluster munitions with the half-life of your average toaster oven, I say the cost of use is too high.

I’d love to be able to make a purely humanitarian plea for the banning of cluster munitions and landmines, because I believe human life is sufficiently worth protecting that I’m willing to limit our capacities to destroy our enemies. The human toll of UXO is unacceptable, because the primary victims generally aren’t fighters – they’re children who, as Ex so poignantly puts it, pick up shiny objects off the ground and lose limbs. Do we compensate these victims, saying, “Oh, sorry you were in the wrong place at the wrong time and now your life is exponentially more difficult because we weren’t willing to clean up”? UXO stay on battlefields long after they’ve returned to being regular, not-so-battle-y fields.

Essentially, by failing to provide evidence that cluster munitions cannot be safely sworn off, by not proving that they serve some vital purpose that cannot be duplicated through another weapons system, Ex’s arguments fall apart. The onus shouldn’t be on the anti-CM crowd to prove why we don’t need these, but on the pro-CM side to prove why we do. In an era of precision weapons, I can’t see a need for scatter-effect explosives. So the real question here is: Can we live without cluster munitions? I say yes.

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