Cluster Bombs are a particularly vile weapon. Murderous on impact, they remain lethal long after fighting ends.
In recent years, there have been moves to ban the use of cluster bombs. Successive Australian Governments have played some role in this. The Peace Organization of Australia explains…
“In May 2008 the text for a treaty banning cluster munitions was concluded in Dublin, Ireland, at a meeting of 111 states. The treaty bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions and places obligations on countries to clear affected areas, assist victims and destroy stockpiles. It is the most significant treaty of its kind since the ban on anti-personnel landmines in 1997.
Like the Mine Ban Treaty, this new treaty is likely to have a powerful effect in stigmatising cluster bombs, so that even those countries that do not sign the treaty will not be able to use them without being subject to international condemnation.
The Peace Organisation of Australia urges the Australian Government to sign and ratify the Cluster Munitions Convention when it opens for signature in December.”
Developing international momentum for an effective ban on cluster bombs has been like a twin-track obstacle race for (genuine) proponents.
The most obvious problem were States that simply didn’t show up at Dublin. These include Russia and China, India and Pakistan. But the USA and Israel are also on this list. They are nations that currently refuse to sign any kind of ban.
The governments in question are presumably motivated by malice, paranoia or both – take your pick. They are either so wicked that they actually want to use cluster bombs aggressively from time to time – or they’re so terrified of others using cluster bombs against them that they insist on retaining cluster bombs too, as a deterrent or for retaliatory use.
But treaty proponents also had to deal with a second tier of recalcitrance.
Other States that did turn up at Dublin, some posing as key advocates of a new agreement, in reality helped to undermine a broad-ranging ban on cluster bombs. They achieved this in various ways. One way was to insist on less (rather than more) inclusive definitions of the term ‘cluster bomb’. Another was arguing that it should be permissible for a contracting party to allow another nation’s cluster bombs to be stored on, or transported through, its territory. A third issue was whether fighting alongside allies that use cluster bombs in a conflict would be permitted under a new agreement.
A few nations played this devious, white-anting role – including Britain and Australia. Australia didn’t oppose a new treaty outright and has postured, from time to time, as a leading advocate. But according to Tim Wright of the POA:
“There is no doubt that the cluster bomb treaty will save countless lives, but it could have saved many more. And Australia is partly to blame for this”.
Australia’s sneaky game, incidentally, began in the Howard era but continued after Kevin Rudd came to power. Another bi-partisan consensus, apparently, without effective mass media scrutiny. Sounds familiar?
Australia’s ‘problem’ with a really comprehensive global ban, it seems, is the company we keep. To be blunt, our chums use cluster bombs. Indeed, our chums are by far the worst offenders.
The first culprit was the Soviet Union in 1943. The Germans responded in kind. Apparently, in World War Two, the two most prolific bombing nations (Britain and America) preferred to use big bombs and plenty of them, rather than cluster bombs. Both used very big bombs, in fact – firebombing entire cities and dropping the most notorious bombs in history – atomic weapons – over Japanese cities.
It was Australia’s ally, the USA, that also revived use of cluster bombs two decades later in South East Asia, leaving ten of millions of unexploded bomblets behind. Perhaps the great ‘war hero’, bomber McCain, used them successfully to kill and maim – before his murderous activities were temporarily curtailed?
After that, cluster bomb use spread to many new wars, from Afghanistan to the Falklands, the Lebanon to Chad. Russia used them against Chechnya in the early 1990s. Nigerian ‘peacekeepers’ dropped them in Sierra Leone in 1997. Proliferation is one major reason why calls for a global ban have intensified in recent years.
Yet a fair-minded observer who reviews the history of cluster bomb use worldwide must conclude that the very worst repeat offenders are the USA and Israel.
The Red Cross estimates that in Laos alone (in the 1970s), nine to 27 million unexploded submunitions remain, and some 11,000 people have been killed or injured, more than 30 percent of them children. An estimate based on US military databases states that 9,500 sorties in Cambodia delivered up to 87,000 air-dropped cluster munitions.
In Iraq, at the time of the 2003 US/UK invasion, some two million bomblets were dropped. In southern Lebanon, just two years ago, four million submunitions were dropped by Israel, leaving an estimated million unexploded bomblets. Adding insult to injury, Israel subsequently refused to supply maps showing where Israel had dropped ordinance to UN teams sent in afterwards to clear unexploded munitions.
This led to even more unnecessary casualties, including the tragic death of Craig Appelby, a REAL war hero – a brave man killed while clearing unexploded cluster bombs on behalf of the United Nations (as opposed to of spraying more explosive poison around the planet).
Do you recall that story of heroism and tragedy splattered on the front page of Murdoch’s London Times – or the Australian – of featured prominently on British or Australian TV news? Nor do I.
Australian Governments, addicted to offering our troops as human sacrifice in successive Anglo-American wars, want the ‘freedom’ to fight alongside chums who regularly drop cluster bombs. Australian Governments, determined to support the apartheid State of Israel without regard to its ever-growing criminality, want to be ‘free’ to have friends who routinely use cluster bombs.
But hypocrites also know when to express shock, horror and outrage.
For instance, should a resurgent Russia ever, ever use cluster bombs in a conflict, expect howls of outrage in Canberra. Perhaps CIA-sponsored NGOs will help out, by making a huge fuss about Russian war crimes enthusiastically reported by CNN, Fox News, the BBC, Australia’s ABC and SBS and all the rest of the spook-infested mass media?
Come to think of it, that just happened…
An innocent might imagine that Human Rights Watch – a valiant US-based NGO committed to the defense of ‘human rights’ worldwide – has its hands full at home right now. But no, it recently found the time to lambast Russia over allegations that it used cluster bombs in South Ossetia and Georgia. HRW did so on several occasions. The western media loved the story. I’m sure the Australian Foreign Office was shocked too. Shocked, shocked we were! How dreadful! Cluster bomb droppings, once again!
Very true. Yet as of today, doubts persist as to whether Russia actually used cluster bombs in the conflict. After all, the Russian Government has repeatedly denied it.
Meanwhile, observant readers of the western media may have noticed that, with a minimum of fanfare, the Georgian Government finally admitted – in a letter to Human Rights Watch, no less – that Georgia DID use cluster bombs during the conflict.
The response of Human Rights Watch was to welcome “Georgia’s willingness to acknowledge its use of cluster munitions” – and express hope that this was a first step toward adopting the treaty. How decent of the Georgian Government! Chums again! HRW’s latest ‘Clarification Regarding Use of Cluster Munitions in Georgia’ backtracks somewhat on its initial, heavily-reported claims of Russian atrocities. It’ll be interesting to see how widely the new news will be reported in the western mass media.
The admission has occasioned not a murmur of protest to Georgia from the Australian Government, of course, which presumably continues to support a self-confessed aggressor Government, now known to have used cluster bombs as well, while Canberra bleats on about ‘Russian aggression’. Small wonder Australia isn’t taken seriously in many international forums. How much weight should the global community attach to the opinions of one-eyed sheep?
I notice also that as of today, a search of the ABC website returns only stories about Russia’s alleged use of cluster bombs in Georgia – not the latter’s admitted usage. Oh well, that’s normal.
Why let facts obscure a good myth – or spoil a cozy bipartisan consensus? How pleasant life must be for Australian ‘foreign policy experts’ – in or out of government.
In Canberra, it’s always clear who are chums – and who are not. Our chums drop cluster-bombs.