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Fact Sheet
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
Washington, DC
February 15, 2008

White Paper: Putting the Impact of Cluster Munitions In Context with the Effects of All Explosive Remnants of War

The United States shares the humanitarian concerns expressed by many other countries with regard to the use of cluster munitions. In order to find an internationally-accepted way of effectively addressing the humanitarian aspects associated with cluster munitions, all relevant facts should be considered. Unfortunately, much of what is said for public consumption by certain advocacy groups and some foreign governments on this issue is not accurate. Therefore, as part of the United States’ overall policy of contributing to meaningful progress on concerns related to cluster munitions, including its strong support for the negotiation of a new Protocol to address the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), this White Paper is being released in order to ensure that all parties interested in this issue have available the most accurate information possible.

Cluster munitions constitute a small portion of the total humanitarian threat presented by unexploded aerial bombs, unexploded artillery shells, and other conventional unexploded munitions – collectively known as explosive remnants of war (ERW) – that often remain in post-conflict environments. Yet, some are claiming that unexploded cluster munitions constitute a major category of post-conflict hazard, warranting new mechanisms beyond those that already exist in Amended Protocol II and Protocol V of the CCW. Rather than creating redundant treaty mechanisms, states need to remain focused on comprehensive post-conflict clearance of all explosive hazards, using the lessons that have already been learned from decades of successful humanitarian clearance of landmines.

This White Paper is intended to share what the United States has learned from its efforts to destroy surplus, abandoned, and unexploded conventional munitions in 52 countries.

The Gap Between Estimated Impacts and Actual Impacts

In almost every recent conflict – Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Iraq - the initial estimates regarding the degree of impact caused by cluster munitions have been grossly off the mark. Indeed, once clearance is started and accurate casualty data collected, initial estimates have been proven wrong. At the same time, the long-term impacts of other munitions have been ignored or under reported, to the detriment of affected civilian communities.

A careful examination of the 2007 edition of the “Landmine Monitor” (www.icbl.org/lm/2007/ ) reveals 289 known post-conflict casualties from unexploded cluster munitions around the world in 2006, far fewer than advocates of a ban on cluster munitions have claimed or implied. Even if one assumes that casualties from unexploded cluster munitions are probably under-reported due to difficulties in collecting accurate casualty data, a more expansive estimate would still be hard-pressed to find 400 cluster munitions casualties out of the world wide total of 5,759 from all ERW.

For example, advocates of a ban on cluster munitions cite their alleged ongoing impact in the Balkans, stemming from the conflicts there in 1999. Yet, there was only one recorded casualty from a cluster munition in the entire Balkans in 2006, according to the Landmine Monitor.

To further place this figure in context, more people (645 according to the Mozambican Information Agency) were harmed in one afternoon by an ammunition depot explosion in Maputo Mozambique in 2007, than were reported by the Landmine Monitor to have been killed or injured by cluster munitions throughout the world during an entire year. Such catastrophic explosions of old, poorly maintained munition depots around the world pose a far greater threat to civilians in adjoining communities than unexploded cluster munitions. This truly dire threat is one that the United States is also helping to address.

U.S. Contribution to Clearing Explosive Remnants of War Globally

Before proceeding further with this analysis, it is important to understand the United States’ role in post-conflict clearance of explosive remnants of war as well as of landmines. First, with the exception of the explosive hazards that remain in Laos and to a lesser extent Vietnam, the vast majority of the landmines and unexploded ordnance found around the world were neither produced nor used by the United States. For example, there are practically no United States-produced landmines being found by deminers anywhere in the world today. Second, the regulations and laws that govern the U.S. exports of weapons systems are among the strictest in the world. These laws provide extensive safeguards against the proliferation of U.S.-produced weapons, require proper storage and security of all U.S. weapons, contain prohibitions on unlawful use, and include extensive post-sales inspection procedures (see www.pmddtc.state.gov to learn more). With regard to use, the U.S. has consistently adhered to all applicable Laws of Armed Conflict in its past use of cluster munitions and has a demonstrated record of continuously improving the features of these munitions in order to enhance the safety of civilians. Finally, even though the preponderance of ERW and landmines around the world that remain a threat are of foreign origin, the United States is the most generous donor to humanitarian mine action, having spent over $1.3 billion dollars so far to help clean up other countries’ ERW and landmines.

Reality on the Ground

The following cases describe the current impacts caused by unexploded cluster munitions around the world. While these impacts should not be taken lightly or dismissed, they certainly are much less than ban advocates are actively leading people to believe.

AFGHANISTAN: During the Soviet occupation, vast quantities of cluster and unitary munitions as well as landmines were used against the Afghan freedom fighters. The ensuing civil war affected Afghanistan further, and then U.S. and Coalition forces used cluster and unitary munitions against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Building on the U.S.’s longstanding demining program in Afghanistan dating back to 1988, the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (www.state.gov/t/pm/wra) initiated a major clean up of all known sites with unexploded allied cluster munitions. This dedicated clean up was successfully concluded in 2002. In 2006, the UN reported 16 known casualties from unexploded cluster munitions out of a total of 796 casualties of all ERW. For that same year, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported 22 cluster munitions casualties out of a total of 784 casualties from all ERW. No matter which set of figures one accepts, the findings by these organizations prove that other forms of ERW constitute a far greater threat than cluster munitions in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the United States continues to help Afghanistan clear all of its explosive remnants of war.

ALBANIA: During the Kosovo conflict, border regions in Albania were hit by cluster and unitary munitions fired by Serbian forces of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Extensive post-conflict landmine and ERW clearance supported by the United States and other donors has been successful. In 2006, there were no new casualties from any form of ERW, although in 2007, regrettably, four children were injured after playing with a hand grenade, according to the Albanian Mine Action Executive.

BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA: This former Yugoslav republic, badly affected by ERW and landmines generated by all combatants, has received significant humanitarian mine action assistance from the United States and other donor nations and groups. In 2006, there were 35 ERW casualties; 1 of those casualties was caused by a cluster munition, according to the Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Center.

CAMBODIA: Cluster munitions accounted for 20 of the 450 casualties that Cambodia suffered from ERW and landmines in 2006, as reported by the Cambodian Mine Victim Information Service. Overall casualty rates in Cambodia have dropped dramatically in the past two years due to the Cambodian Government’s efforts to restrict dangerous scrap metal collection from recycling of ERW, and to the success of large scale demining programs, supported in part by the United States.

IRAQ: According to the Landmine Monitor, the Iraqi government estimated that from 2003 to 2006 there were 75 casualties from cluster munitions used by U.S. forces. The Landmine Monitor also estimated that between 2003 and 2005, there were 2,810 casualties from ERW and landmines. Immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. Department of State initiated a major humanitarian mine action program in Iraq, which included a deployment by its Quick Reaction Demining Force in the summer and fall of 2003 to clean up unexploded cluster munitions and other ERW. In 2006, Iraq suffered 99 casualties from ERW and mines that were reported: 1 of those casualties was caused by a cluster munition, according to the Landmine Monitor. The United States continues to provide Iraq with significant ERW/mine action assistance.

KOSOVO: By the time former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia forces were driven from Kosovo by U.S. and NATO forces, this province was heavily affected by landmines and ERW, including unexploded cluster munitions. The United States contributed to a UN- led clearance effort that declared Kosovo free from the humanitarian impacts of landmines and ERW in 2001. Nonetheless residual ERW do remain in Kosovo and produced 11 casualties in 2006, not one of which was reported as being caused by cluster munitions, according to the Office of the Kosovo Protection Corps Coordinator.

LAOS: Laos was heavily bombed by the United States during the Vietnam conflict in an attempt to block the flow of North Vietnamese arms and troops through Laotian territory. Cluster munitions comprised a significant portion of the U.S. bomb attacks over a seven- year period and, due to the technology in use at the time, very large amounts of unexploded cluster munitions were generated, making Laos the only country in the world where cluster munitions constitute the principal and most dangerous ERW hazard. The United States has since provided significant ERW clearance assistance to Laos, which has helped to reduce casualty rates, with annual casualties dropping dramatically by 65 % according to the Landmine Monitor. In 2006 there were a total of 59 known casualties from all ERW (it is likely that additional casualties took place but were not reported to authorities). The Landmine Monitor calculates that given the sufficient information known about 49 of those cases, the majority of the casualties were caused by handling, tampering, and playing with unexploded cluster munitions. U.S. cluster munitions technology has evolved to ever more accurate and reliable systems since the Vietnam conflict.

LEBANON: The 2006 conflict between Hezbollah militias and Israeli forces that took place predominantly in southern Lebanon is one of the exceptions to the case in which unexploded cluster munitions normally constitute a small portion of ERW. Unexploded cluster munitions created a significant humanitarian impact in southern Lebanon. In response, the United States quickly and significantly increased the funding for its long-standing humanitarian mine action program there, contributing at least 25% of the $53 million in international donations to aid clearance operations. A summary of the U.S. surge in assistance to deal with ERW clearance as of October 2006 is available at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2006/73579.htm. U.S. assistance continues. The combined efforts of U.S. and other donors and the Lebanese people have made great strides in the clearance of ERW, and restoration of impacted land to safe use. As clearance operations and ERW risk awareness programs have expanded, casualty rates have fallen. For example, in December 2007, there were 2 casualties from unexploded cluster munitions, down from 57 in August 2007. Further details are available in the UN Mine Action Center (UNMACC) for South Lebanon Quarterly Report for October–December 2007 at www.mineaction.org/downloads/1/attwr8c9.pdf .

But even in southern Lebanon, the projects failure rates of cluster munitions were ultimately incorrect. As of December 2007, UNMACC reported that 68% of the impacted land (25% with sub-surface clearance to 20 centimeters; 43% surface cleared of all threats) there had been cleared, producing 138,750 unexploded cluster munitions. Based on the rate of clearance, this indicates that the initial estimates of over 1,000,000 unexploded cluster munitions were high. Similarly, this would make the actual failure rate of cluster munitions there closer to 5% rather than the oft-quoted 20% - 40% estimates. (U.S. policy for its own cluster munitions is that new types must have a 99% functioning rate in testing.)

SERBIA: During hostilities to prevent ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia targets in Serbia were struck by NATO forces using unitary and cluster bombs. Between 2001 and 2005, there were 52 casualties caused by ERW, according to the Landmine Monitor. The Associated Press reported that 1 of those ERW incidents involved a deminer who was injured by a cluster munition that had failed to detonate in 1999. There were no ERW or landmine casualties in 2006, according to the Landmine Monitor.

VIETNAM: In 2006, according to Clear Path International there were 96 reported casualties from ERW and landmines, a legacy of conflicts dating back to World War II, the French period, American period, and the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979. Handicap International-Belgium calculated that at least 20 of these casualties were reported to come from cluster munitions. The United States has spent millions of dollars to help clear landmines and ERW from Vietnam, as well as teach ERW/mine risk education in affected areas, and render assistance to ERW/mine survivors. Its long-standing efforts along with those of other donor nations and non-governmental organizations have made a difference.

Survivors Must be Helped Regardless of What Type of Munition Injured Them

The debate about cluster munitions should not distract the international community from the fact that tens of thousands of survivors from landmines and the full range of ERW have been physically, emotionally, and economically harmed over the years. Thanks in part to the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program, the world’s largest such program which includes a robust survivors assistance component, the casualty rate from landmines and ERW has plummeted from the estimated range of 10,000 - 20,000 four years ago to 5,751 as of 2006 for which the most comprehensive data exists at the time of this White Paper, a clear positive trend even taking into account the incomplete collection of data for accident and health statistics in many conflict-affected countries. (Statistics for ERW and landmine casualties in 2007 have not been fully compiled yet.) Today more civilians come to harm through tampering with abandoned or unexploded ordnance than are injured or killed by landmines. Nonetheless, current survivors and survivors of new accidents from explosive hazards left from past or on-going conflict continue to deserve help that will restore their dignity, mobility, and ability to reintegrate in their communities.

Since 1989 when the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Leahy War Victims Fund (http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/humanitarian_assistance/the_funds/lwvf/index.html) was founded, the United States has assisted tens of thousands of survivors of mines and other war-related causes. It should be noted that the United States has reached out to help war victims around the world, even though the vast majority have been injured by mines and other devices that were manufactured and used by foreign combatants, and not injured by United States mines or munitions.

Furthermore, assistance to victims should be provided purely on a humanitarian basis and not be made conditional upon a state’s agreement to any politically motivated international agreement, whether that agreement concerns landmines, cluster munitions or any other conventional weapons. The best example of this principle can be found in Protocol V of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (http://ccwtreaty.state.gov/keydocs.html) which the United States has signed and which calls on its States Parties to:

“… provide assistance for the care and rehabilitation and social and economic reintegration of victims of explosive remnants of war. Such assistance may be provided inter alia through the United Nations system, relevant international, regional or national organizations or institutions, the International Committee of the Red Cross, national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and their International Federation, non-governmental organizations, or on a bilateral basis.”


The campaign to ban cluster munitions has endeavored to elevate a single type of munition to infamy rather than addressing the continuing need to clean up all explosive remnants of war, the vast majority of which are not cluster munitions. To truly save lives, responsible governments and civil society should urge all states to take a comprehensive, humanitarian, impact-based approach to reduce the effect of landmines and all ERW and by providing more support to existing clearance and survivors’ assistance efforts, and not dissipate resources in a variety of competing and redundant mechanisms.

States that are party to the CCW should support Protocol V. States that are not party to the CCW but claim to be genuinely concerned about the humanitarian impacts of conventional weapons should accede to this Convention. They should support Protocol V and support any future instrument in the CCW that addresses cluster munitions.

Additional Information:

To learn more about the United States position on cluster munitions and all ERW, and on the inter-agency U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program, the world’s largest such program that clears landmines and ERW, teaches ERW/mine risk education, renders assistance to ERW/mine survivors, conducts research and development on faster and safer ways to detect and clear ERW and mines, and provides humanitarian mine action training to foreign deminers, consult the following materials and websites:

For further comprehensive information about the clearance of landmines and ERW around the world, visit the website of the Mine Action Information Center at James Madison University at http://maic.jmu.edu/ and consult their “Journal of Mine Action” at http://maic.jmu.edu/journal/index/search2.htm.

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