111 Nations, Minus the U.S., Agree to Cluster-Bomb Ban
By Kevin Sullivan and Josh White Washington Post Foreign Service Thursday, May 29, 2008; A01
LONDON, May 28 -- More than 100 countries reached agreement Wednesday to ban cluster bombs, controversial weapons that human rights groups deplore but that the United States, which did not join the ban, calls an integral, legitimate part of its arsenal.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose personal intervention Wednesday led to final agreement among representatives of 111 countries gathered in Dublin, called the ban a "big step forward to make the world a safer place."
In addition to the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan -- all of them major producers or users of the weapons -- did not sign the agreement or participate in the talks.
The weapons consist of canisters packed with small bombs, or "bomblets," that spread over a large area when a canister is dropped from a plane or fired from the ground. While the bomblets are designed to explode on impact, they frequently do not. Civilians, particularly children, are often maimed or killed when they pick up unexploded bombs, sometimes years later.
In staying away from Dublin, U.S officials argued that the talks were not the right forum in which to address the issue and that cluster bombs remain an important part of the country's weaponry. "While the United States shares the humanitarian concerns of those in Dublin," said Navy Cmdr. Bob Mehal, a Pentagon spokesman, "cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility, and their elimination from U.S. stockpiles would put the lives of our soldiers and those of our coalition partners at risk."
Well, Commander Bob, the same can be said for nuclear weapons. Certainly a military commander (even an old Navy man) wouldn't want to put his own and his troops personal butts at risk, if he could ameliorate that by killing innocents and blowing the legs off picnicking children for generations down the road.
I've been to Sarajevo, seen the legless and blind who are still growing in numbers ten years and more after the actual fighting stopped. Immediately after the cease-fire, I drove down there from Prague, ferrying into Bosnia where bridges formerly stood. At frequent checkpoints, U.N. soldiers in face-paint and body-armor warned against getting out of the car.
"No where is safe from mines. If you have to pee, stop and take a leak in the middle of the road, because the shoulder of the road will certainly be mined."
As are the forests and pastures, where it is still unsafe to take your kids or graze the sheep that are the nation's major agricultural product. Sheep are unwittingly clearing the mines, but it's an expensive thing to lose your animals when they're all you have.
The airport was being de-mined when I was there. Lines of men, crawling, pushing probe-sticks ahead of them. Bosnia-Herzegovina will never be entirely fee of what are essentially booby-traps, because the cost of lines of men with probes makes their indiscriminate placement economically impossible to clear.
Welcome to a picnic in the year 2040, where you pray that ants are the only inconvenience.
So, instead of leading, we have allied ourselves with the likes of Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan. Instead of joining the 'coalition partners at risk,' who seem willing, perhaps even eager to rid themselves of this nemesis; wild-eyed and unsophisticated partners such as Britain, Germany, Japan, Spain and even the lovely and constantly invaded Czech Republic, where I live.
We have thrown in our lot with the bad guys--again.
Commander Bob has ascribed to the philosophy of Joseph Stalin, that a hundred thousand deaths is a news event, while a single death is a tragedy. But his vision is blurred by the failure to see tragedy in the death of a neighbor who is not his neighbor. Next week a child--not your child and not Commander Bob's child, but someone's child--will fail to come home after school.
It is for that and nothing more that we align ourselves with the barbarians.