Cluster Bombs Banned, US Dissents

Cluster Bombs Banned, US Dissents May 30, 2008

A momentous agreement was reached in Dublin. Over 100 governments agreed on a treaty banning the use of cluster bombs, bombs that break up in the air and scatter hundreds of smaller bombs over a large area. The success owes much to a push from Gordon Brown, who agreed to take the UK’s cluster bombs out of commission. Who did not take part in these talks? Why, a sundry group of renegade countries including China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel— and the United States. Yes, the Bush administration still defends the use of these weapons and even tries to browbeat its NATO allies into opposing the ban.

There are two basic problems with cluster bombs. First, by their very nature, they do not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. Second, legions of unexploded bombs present enduring risks long after hostilities have ceased. As an example, cluster bombs killed about two people a day in southern Lebanon for many months after Israel’s assault in the summer of 2006. Many who die are children.

By being incapable of distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants, I would contend that the use of cluster bombs rises to the status of an intrinsically evil act, falling under the category of “the targeting of non-combatants in acts of terror and war” as laid out by the UCSSB in its Faithful Citizenship document. And the Vatican seems to agree, noting that “both military and financial excuses to defend the use of cluster bombs are unacceptable”. Pope Benedict was a strong supporter of the Dublin negotiations, calling for a cluster bomb ban, and noting that “it is necessary to remedy the errors of the past and to avoid their repetition in the future”. And indeed, the Vatican delegation declared it was “working intensely” to secure a ban.

Oh, and one more thing. We know where Bush stands. On a 2006 Senate measure to block the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas, both McCain and Clinton voted against. Obama supported it.


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  • TeutonicTim

    The Church banned the use of crossbows in 1139 too. Somehow I don’t think that they pose a risk to the world.

    The use of cluster bombs is not deliberately targeting anyone but who is the target, and that would be the militaries that hide in civilian populations for just the publicity you speak of.

  • Maybe certain other countries allied with the US feel free to sign such treaties because the US didn’t — as we have their backs, they feel free to act in such ways. but that wouldn’t invalidate the substance of your post. I would quibble with your first point, perhaps: I think many could envision situations where cluster bombs could be used against combatants exclusively.

  • Liam

    “The use of cluster bombs is not deliberately targeting anyone but who is the target, and that would be the militaries that hide in civilian populations for just the publicity you speak of.”

    Well, that’s a contradictory statement. Cluster bombs are inherently indiscriminate. They are designed to be indiscriminate. There’s no way for them to be squared with jus in bellow – the ersatz intention is belied by the actual intention (if you intend to use such weapons, you intend them to be indiscriminate because they are inherently indiscriminate, to a protestation that that’s not your real goal is utterly worthless from a moral perspective).

  • Chase

    Tim brings up an excellent historical note which many people forgot: the Church banned (indeed, past tense is inappropriate, continues to ban) the use of crossbows. While such a ban seems quaint in the era of handguns, its a persistent reminder of the need for constant caution with the use of any force. This extends to semiautomatic weapons and to cluster bombs.

    Combatants who hide in civilian populations are evil actors, for sure, but that in no way justifies the risk to an innocent civilian population undertaken by going after them. To be consciously aware and avoid even the near occasion of sin is to sometimes sacrifice a short term tactical advantage. The quest towards virtue is full of similar sacrifices.

  • Cluster bombing is like a shotgun with birdshot. It has a radius and a circumference, even a generalizable pattern, but in the end it is indiscriminate since the distribution of bombs also blow up create a cluster of its own…

  • Zak

    No bombs by their nature distinguish between combatents and non-combatents. It depends on how they are used. Regarding failed detonation, the newest cluster bombs the US is developing are supposed to be rendered inert if they impact without detonating.

  • Policraticus

    The Church banned the use of crossbows in 1139 too. Somehow I don’t think that they pose a risk to the world.

    So what? Are you insinuating that that the Church is backing the ban on cluster bombs for the same reason it banned crossbows 900 years ago?

  • Predictable responses from predictable commenters.

  • TeutonicTim

    This extends to semiautomatic weapons

    That’s a stretch right there. I’ll listen a bit more if you can define what “semiautomatic” means.

    And as far as people saying what cluster bombs were designed for, you need to do some research. They were designed for hitting an encampment or base of combatants or air strips. Those who put civilians at risk by deliberately using them as shields are at fault for any damage to those civilians.

  • Liam

    Michael

    Well, that was certainly an indiscriminate comment…

  • ragekj

    Zak seems to be right to me-it seems to me that they wouldn’t be intrinsically evil provided they were used in areas where noncombatants were not present. A hypothetical possibility exists. That of course is not a claim that they can or should be used. I’m glad that the other countries supported the ban, and I am ashamed that the U.S. did not. I am also disappointed in Sen. McCain’s vote.

  • Target: Irenaeus and Tim.

  • TeutonicTim

    Is that a threat?

  • Chase

    And as far as people saying what cluster bombs were designed for, you need to do some research.

    Crossbows were designed to hunt animals. Abortion was designed to be personally liberating. War is designed (at least theoretically) to bring peace.

    St. Paul correctly warns us over and over again about the lure of false philosophies, those contrary to that which we know is just, right and true. If we profess to take the right to life with the utmost seriousness, as I believe we should, then we must look past design to true effect.

    To answer Politicratus’ question, I think the Church speaks out against crossbows for precisely the same reason it speaks out against cluster bombs – the risk to innocent life is far too great, innocent people have and continue to die because of their existence and any device or invention or philosophy which can so easily dispose of human life deserves the strictness of scrutiny.

  • TeutonicTim

    To answer Politicratus’ question, I think the Church speaks out against crossbows for precisely the same reason it speaks out against cluster bombs

    Am I wrong to see the humor in this? Crossbows equated to clusterbombs?

    Let me get this straight – In the interest of human life we can ban clusterbombs, but banning abortion or working to pass laws against it aren’t in the best interest of Catholics. I think I’m finally seeing things the Vox-Nova TM way

  • Dale

    I wanted to make a minor point – the Church ban on crossbows was issued to stop their use against Christians.

    “The Latin text is as follows:

    Artem autem illam mortiferam et Deo odibilem ballistoriorum et sagittariorum, adversus christianos et catholicos de cetero sub anathemate prohibemus.

    Translation: We prohibit under anathema that murderous art of crossbowmen and archers, which is hated by God, to be employed against Christians and Catholics from now on.”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A2866061
    In 1139 AD, the implied message was that crossbows could be used against Muslims.

    Perhaps a better comparison is the use of anti-personnel land mines, which the FT article points out are only used by Burma today, despite many nations (including the US) not being signatories to the treaty banning them.

  • In the interest of human life we can ban clusterbombs, but banning abortion or working to pass laws against it aren’t in the best interest of Catholics. I think I’m finally seeing things the Vox-Nova TM way

    Of course, TeutonicTim is YET AGAIN misrepresenting the contributors of Vox Nova.

    But speaking personally, although I am in favor of communities banning certain death-dealing practices, I think it’s clear in both cases that banning such activities is largely meaningless in our society’s present configuration. The united states will never ban abortion as that right is deeply ingrained in our foundational documents and narrative which proclaims kill those who stand in the way of your pursuit of happiness. People will continue to claim the right to make the choice to have an abortion, and pro-choice folks like TeutonicTim will insist upon the united states’ right to choose cluster bombs. It’s the same mentality.

  • TeutonicTim

    Last I checked that line was not in our foundational documents. Who’s misrepresenting?

  • Chase

    As Michael points out, I was merely attempting to illustrate how the supposed design of any technology can lure us in a way which is contrary to Gospel values. If we propose the right to life as sacrosanct (as indeed, I think we should), that means sacrificing certain technologies and “rights”: abortion, crossbows and cluster bombs are all three examples of technologies which the Church rejects because they so gravely violate the sanctity of human life.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Tim, you are truly unbelievable. Very pagan in your approach. Are you not aware that attacking non-combatants is always and everywhere prohibited, whether combatants are deliberately hiding among them or not? It’s disgusting logic like this that defended the Israeli assault on Dahiya in 2006. How can a person possibly oppose abortion while defending these acts? That is something I just cannot comprehend.

  • Liam

    ” ‘And as far as people saying what cluster bombs were designed for, you need to do some research.’

    Crossbows were designed to hunt animals. Abortion was designed to be personally liberating. War is designed (at least theoretically) to bring peace.”

    * * *

    A perfect skewer from the perspective of Catholic moral theology. Blindness, of course, will prevent one from seeing the truth in it. The clue here being that that the idea of a human shield exculpates or justifies one in using a weapon in a way that you have reason to know will injure or kill the shield is not a Catholic one – it doesn’t fulfill the principle of double effect because the professed intent is illusory. This is so hard for people immersed in utilitarian American civic culture to understand.

  • CrusaderCatholic

    Logic like voting for pro-abortion candidates? Logic like letting muslim countries kill Christians for having bibles? There is room for fighting in Catholic thought.

  • Liam

    CrusaderCatholic

    “Fighting” does not equal = “Cluster bombs are OK” or “indiscriminate fighting is OK”

    What logic…

  • CrusaderCatholic

    Again, you’re assuming that they are being used indiscriminately. The U.S. uses multimillion dollar smart bombs (opposed to the low tech cluster bombs)and puts its own soldiers at increased risk because their enemies are cowards and hide among civilians. Even international law places blame on the ones hiding in the civilian populations.

  • Liam

    Even assuming arguendo it insulates you with regard to international law, the human shield defense does not insulate you from the condemnation by Catholic moral theology.

  • Drakus

    FYI- Cluster munitions are *not* used (by the USA) against urban targets. They are designed for (and very effective at) knocking out airfields, ammo dumps, masses of exposed troops, tearing up vehicle convoys, and other uses where your targets may be spread over a wide area.

    Another reason to refuse to sign is that most of these treaties would prohibit the development of newer, more ‘intelligent’ weapons. We currently have a cluster munition in development that can have a number of targets programmed into the sub-munitions. The sub munitions will home in on tanks, heavy vehicles, etc. and destroy their specific targets. Any munitions that do not achieve a lock self destruct after hitting the ground (they burn up, rendering themselves harmless). A laudable goal to develop weapons that only kill what is intended…a goal that can’t be achieved if they are banned.

  • CrusaderCatholic

    Drakus – Don’t inject the truth into this…

  • Morning’s Minion

    Yes, Drakus, 110 countries are wrong. The Vatican is wrong. Christ is wrong. The US is right.

  • Liam

    Drakus

    But CrusaderCatholic and others say the US uses them to deal with enemies who hide themselves among civilian populations.

    I guess one of you has some splaining….

  • A laudable goal to develop weapons that only kill what is intended…

    But crime and crime time and time again Donald Rumsfeld assured us that we ALREADY have weapons that only kill what is intended…

  • Liam

    Ah, the Spirit of Truthiness…

  • CrusaderCatholic

    Liam – That’s not what I said. I said they were used for combatant bases and airfields.

  • Liam

    THen I don’t understand why you bothered to refer to international law placing blame on soldiers hiding amid civilian populations…

  • Um, seeing as I’ve been targeted let me clarify. This is a post of MM’s with which I am generally sympathetic. Although I think global warming hysteria is nonsense that serves the expansion of government power and makes life harder for pro-life, anti-contraception folks, wish certain members of the Blog here seemed to care more about the unborn, and have no excitement for Obama, I’m actually sympathetic to pacifism and think God & Country stuff is heretical. You should see how I annoy my conservative, GOP-leanin’ ROTC-lovin’ students in class. So, again, let me clarify:

    My first point, I think, bears consideration: is it indeed possible that our putative allies felt free to vote this way on this and leave the “dirty work” to us? It’s a cynical suggestion, but the realities of politics and war should leave one a little cynical, no?

    My second point was simply to wonder out loud whether cluster bombs could be considered intrinsically evil if one can envision situations where soldiers and soldiers alone would be targeted.

    That’s all. I know I’ve gotten in MMs grill in the past, but not this thread.

  • PS — I’m amused that it says “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” Does that mean I need to rephrase it more diplomatically? 🙂