U.S. Intervention on Humanitarian Impacts of Cluster MunitionsRichard Kidd, Director, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement
Remarks as repared for the CCW Group of Governmental Experts
June 20, 2007
The United States has almost two decades of experience in helping other countries dispose of explosive remnants of war (ERW), including cluster munitions. With well over $1 billion in assistance provided to 52 countries since 1993, the United States operates clearance activities on a greater scale, and in more countries than any other donor or international institution – including the UN. Given the depth of U.S. experience I want to share with the group three general observations regarding the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions within the broader context of all ERW, point out exceptions to these general observations and then suggest what additional steps could be taken to reduce humanitarian impacts.
First the three general observations, applicable for all instances of cluster munitions use post 1975:
1. The impacts of cluster munitions are episodic and limited in scope, scale and duration – as compared to other ERW.
2. There is no country in the world – except one – where cluster munitions constitute the principal ERW threat.
3. We are unaware of any unmet request for assistance in clearing cluster munitions – existing resource mobilization, coordination and clearance mechanisms have proven sufficient to meet cluster munitions hazards as they develop.
The exception to these observations can all be found by examining conditions in Laos, the world’s most heavily bombed country, conditions which were generated prior to 1975. But before I look at Laos, let me explain the points above and provide a few country specific examples.
When civilian communities first encounter unexploded cluster munitions, the immediate adverse impacts can be very pronounced and severe. Fortunately though, this “spike” in casualties is not sustained and the initial, often horrific reports that we might see in the news are reflective of individual incidents and not a sustained, long-term trend. In all recent conflicts, we have observed civilian casualties caused by cluster munitions decline rapidly within a number of weeks. In Kosovo, Afghanistan and Lebanon the vast majority of civilian casualties from cluster munitions occurred within 30 days after the end of hostilities, quickly falling to levels well below that produced by other ERW or landmines. Understanding the nature of this cluster munitions casualty “spike” is essential in order to craft a suitable humanitarian response, a response that does not ignore or come at the expense of addressing broader ERW threats.
Cluster munitions have a concentrated, not a distributed impact. They are not found over the same amount of land-area or in the same numbers as other ERW. Cluster munitions, while an area weapon in a tactical or operational sense, are used to attack specific military targets measuring some hundreds of meters to the side. They are not designed to deny access to the land itself and do not contaminate vast areas the same way that say the K-5 mine belt does in Cambodia, stretching for hundreds and hundreds of kilometers along the border between that country and Thailand. Globally, cluster munitions contaminate only a small fraction of the land area contaminated by landmines – a fact which reduces opportunities for harmful incidents. Similarly, while cluster munitions may be the most prevalent type of ERW in a very specific locale, on a country by country basis they are only a small fraction of total ERW. In Afghanistan, advocacy groups reported on the 12,000 or so unexploded cluster munitions produced by coalition air strikes in 2001/2. At the same time the UN was reporting 400,000 landmines and over 1.6 million pieces of other ERW cleared. Given these figures, unexploded cluster munitions represented less than 1/100th of one percent of total ERW in Afghanistan in 2002, a ratio that has only improved over time. The vast majority of ERW consist of artillery rounds, grenades, rockets and other devices. It is from this diverse collection of munitions, while not as newsworthy and not as dramatic, that the majority of civilian casualties are generated. As we consider humanitarian response to cluster munitions we should not forget to take steps to address other ERW, abandoned ordnance or improperly stored ordnance. It is this later category of munitions that led to the recent depot explosion in Mozambique – killing and injuring in one day three times more people than have come to harm from unexploded cluster munitions in Lebanon in the last 8 months.
Cluster munitions are hazardous because they fail to operate as designed, whereas landmines found are hazardous specifically because they continue to operate as designed. Cluster munitions are not designed to be persistent, to be hidden, to be buried or to be detonated by a step or a casual touch – although sadly they can, but do not necessarily, possess all of these dangerous attributes. The attribute that often makes unexploded cluster munitions most dangerous is that they are “new” and the nature of the threat they pose is unknown to impacted communities. Villages that long ago learned to safely avoid minefields may not recognize the dangers that cluster munitions pose. Unlike other larger munitions such as mortar rounds and unitary bombs, cluster munitions do not offer sufficient financial rewards for scrap collectors. Once communities learn that cluster munitions are dangerous, they are more likely to leave them alone and risky behaviors less likely to develop, reducing the long-term hazards.
Global ERW Threat
Among the 52 countries where the U.S. has provided conventional weapons destruction assistance, only ten have reported any threat from cluster munitions (Afghanistan, Albania, Cambodia, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Montenegro, Serbia, Vietnam; as well as Kosovo). In only 4 of these 10 was there a requirement to have activities specifically focused on cluster munitions. Of these 4 programs, two were completed in less than 2.5 years. Two are ongoing and one of these should be complete by the end of this year. By 2008 only Laos should have a need for assistance dedicated specifically to address the threat from cluster munitions.
Reviewing casualty figures is always an inexact and slightly macabre exercise, but even accepting wide margins of error, it is clear that cluster munitions do not cause the majority of casualties in any country in the world – again with one, possibly two exceptions. And while this is not a “like for like” comparison due to the fact that we have had to draw from different sources, the most accurate and current indicative figures for total casualties produced by cluster munitions that we have available are : Kosovo <20%, Iraq <15%, Afghanistan < 2%, Serbia < 1%, Albania < 5%, Lebanon <10%. Only in Laos and possibly Vietnam does it appear that cluster munitions account for more than 50% of all ERW generated casualties.
Cooperation and Assistance
The United States is unaware of any unmet request for assistance in clearing cluster munitions. All known requirements have been articulated and existing resource mobilization, coordination and clearance mechanisms have proven sufficient; indeed these mechanisms have improved over time.
The Office in the U.S. Department of State that manages our assistance programs has reviewed hundreds of clearance reports and contracting tenders that provide information on clearance rates and costs. In all cases it is faster and cheaper to clear cluster munitions than landmines under similar conditions and in similar terrain. In Serbia this cost difference is “just” 50%. In the open areas of Afghanistan the same clearance assets can clear 250 square meters of land contaminated by cluster munitions in the same amount of time required to clear only 3 square meters of minefield – an 80 fold increase in productivity and cost efficiency.
Of the more than $1B in assistance provided by the U.S. for all destruction programs, we were only able to identify – and this counting every penny provided to Laos - about $45 million in U.S. support that has been allocated specifically to address the clean up of cluster munitions.
In sum, there simply is no large scale demand for financial resources to clear cluster munitions. Additional or separate institutions or conferences specifically focused on cluster munitions would be, in the opinion of the United States, a misuse of funds that could be better spent elsewhere.
Examples that highlight these three observations:
The Laos Exception:
Of course it is important to ensure that any humanitarian response to the effects of cluster munitions is not unbalanced or comes at the expense of efforts aimed at removing the threat from other ERW, abandoned ordnance or unsafe stockpiles. Cluster munitions do present a post-conflict threat to civilians, but as the examples I have provided show, this threat is episodic, manageable within current response mechanisms and, on a global scale, less harmful than the threat caused by other types of unexploded munitions.
I look forward to the remainder of our discussions today. Thank you for your consideration.
Released on June 20, 2007