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Civilian Injury & Disability Due to Cluster Bombs

Synopsis: Information regarding devastation, injuries and disability caused by cluster bombing.1

Author: Disabled World Contact: Disabled World

Published: 2013-09-23 Updated: 2015-04-01

Main Digest

Cluster bombs have been used in attempts to increase the effectiveness of air dropped munitions. The bombs have been in use since before World War II and involve the combination of a number of smaller bombs held together by some breakable link. The bombs could be dropped together and then separate at the time they are dropped, or during the descent, so they separate and distance themselves from each other in the air and retain the capability to damage or destroy people and targets in an area.

A form of air-dropped or ground-launched explosive weapon that releases or ejects smaller submunitions. Commonly, this is a cluster bomb that ejects explosive bomblets that are designed to kill personnel and destroy vehicles. Other cluster munitions are designed to destroy runways or electric power transmission lines, disperse chemical or biological weapons, or to scatter land mines. Unexploded bomblets can kill or maim civilians and/or unintended targets long after a conflict has ended, and are costly to locate and remove.

Over time it became apparent that it would be more advantageous to reduce the size of the smaller bombs because computations showed that anti-personnel effectiveness could be greatly improved by doing so. Studies after World War II showed that fairly small bombs, considerably smaller than the ones used at the time in cluster bombs, could destroy everything from tanks to trucks, armored vehicles to other military vehicles. Soon afterward it became apparent that it was hard and costly to put a large number of smaller bombs in clusters and safely and reliably hold them together for aircraft drop. What this led to was the placement of clustered smaller bombs within the confines of larger bombs which act as containers for the smaller bombs. After the larger bomb is dropped from an aircraft it opens and disperses the smaller bombs over an area.

Saturation of unexploded munitions has become a characteristic of modern battlefields. The potential for fratricide from unexploded ordnance is rising. While ground forces are concerned with all unexploded ordnance, the greatest potential for fratricide comes with unexploded munitions, such as those from cluster bombs.

Chart showing cluster bomb facts
Chart showing cluster bomb facts

The functional reliability requirement of munitions is no less than 95%. With a 95% function reliability, one cluster bomb with 650 submunitions could produce up to 38 unexploded submunitions. A typical B-52 dropping a full load of cluster bombs, each containing 650 submunitions, could produce an average of 1,700 unexploded submunitions. The numbers of submunitions that fail to explode and the dispersion of them determine the actual density of the hazard area.

Studies have shown that 40% of the, 'duds,' on the ground are hazardous for every encounter with an unexploded submunition; there is a 13% probability of detonation. What this means is while an unexploded submunition may have been kicked, run over, stepped on, or disturbed in some other way and failed to explode - it is still not safe. Handling unexploded submunitions can eventually result in arming and detonation of it.

Cluster bombs are very imprecise and indiscriminate weapons, they work by dispersing hundreds of smaller submunitions over a wide area. Cluster bombs present a very grave danger to civilians during conflicts and long afterward because they are designed to scatter explosives over wide areas of land. While they may be intended to explode on contact, many of them do not. The large numbers of unexploded, 'bomblets,' end up becoming land mines that indiscriminately kill, disable, and injure people for years. The United States of America produces, stockpiles, trades, as well as uses cluster bombs.

Chart showing nations that have not signed the cluster bomb treaty
Chart showing nations that have not signed the cluster bomb treaty

Disability campaigners and survivors of cluster bombs have welcomed the comprehensive ban on cluster bombs. Along with outlawing an entire class of weapons, the ban includes provisions to help people affected by them. Coordinator of the Cluster Munition Coalition, Thomas Nash stated, "We have consigned cluster bombs to the dustbin of history and stigmatized their use. With this historic agreement cluster bombs can never be used, produced, or transferred again, and this is a victory for humanity."

The agreement, 'raises the bar,' for treaties covering conventional weapons, especially around assistance for those who have been affected by them. If offers humanitarian assistance for victims and communities affected by these weapons. It also presents obligations towards affected nations and donors to clear contaminated land and reach beyond what was agreed on in the Ottawa landmine treaty and build on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

A survivor of cluster bombs from Serbia, Branislav Kapetanovic stated, "I lost my arms and legs because of cluster bombs, but this visionary treaty will make a real difference to people like me. Cluster bombs have a deadly legacy, but Dublin's legacy will save lives. I am proud that countries have prioritized people over weapons."

Handicap International's Stan Brabant said that recent research shows 97% of those affected by cluster bombs were civilians. He believes that it is the indiscriminate nature of cluster bombs as much as their potential impact after war that prompted the agreement. Approximately 100,000 civilians are believed to have been maimed by the use of these bombs in recent years.

The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger stated, "The convention adopted in Dublin means that these weapons are not only morally unacceptable but also now illegal under international humanitarian law. When implemented it will prevent tremendous civilian suffering."

As with the Ottawa landmine treaty some nations were notably absent. These nations include the United States of America, Israel, China, and Russia. Activists believe that the use of cluster bombs will become so stigmatized, as the use of landmines is at this time, that they will soon cease to be used even by nations that have not signed the treaty. As things are, some nations apparently prefer cluster bombs over the safety of innocent civilians.

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Cite Page: Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Disabled World. Electronic Publication Date: 2013-09-23 - Revised: 2015-04-01. Title: Civilian Injury & Disability Due to Cluster Bombs, Source: <a href=>Civilian Injury & Disability Due to Cluster Bombs</a>. Retrieved 2021-03-07, from - Reference: DW#309-9885.