The United States had rejected an international call to ban cluster munitions, after 46 nations met in Oslo pledged to seek a treaty to do so next year.
Dropped from aircraft or fired by artillery, cluster munitions open above ground and disperse dozens to hundreds of tiny bomblets over a wide area. Although designed to stop armored assaults, bomblets have fallen on civilian areas and littered fields long after the end of hostilities, most recently in Lebanon. And the smaller bombs do not always explode on impact, which means they can continue to kill innocent civilians years later. A recent report by Handicap International claimed that 98 percent of casualties from cluster munitions are non-combatants.
Since 2005, the Defense Department has required that newly purchased submunitions have a failure rate of less than one percent. Human Rights Watch, however, estimates that only about 30,000 of the millions of cluster munitions currently in the US arsenal meet the that criteria.
Much like the rejection of Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, and a ban on landmine use, the United States is again bucking international will it should be leading. Luckily, Democratic Senators Diane Feinstein and Patrick Leahy have introduced legislation that would bar US use of cluster bombs in or near civilian areas or that have a "dud rate" of one percent or greater. We can only hope for its speedy passage to end this inhumane practice.