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Flouting International Rejection of Weapons, US to Supply Saudi Arabia With Cluster Bombs

"A tiny failure rate will still leave a large threat to civilians."

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The U.S. is set to build and send 1300 cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, the Department of Defense announced this week.

A child who was a victim of a cluster bomb in Lebanon as he was walking with his family and their goats. It took one of these unexploded "bomblets" for him to lose his leg and have his other leg and hand badly injured. (Photo: Cluster Munition Coalition/cc/flickr)The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have refused to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits use and transfer of the weapons noted for their harm to civilian populations years after they are dropped as unexploded submunitions become de-facto landmines wherever they land, and whose appearance has at times caused them to be confused with toys or food aid packages.

The $640-million contract, expected to completed by 2015, was given to Textron Defense Systems, which touts its Sensor Fuzed Weapon Cluster Bomb Unit as having "greater than 99 percent reliability," meaning less than 1% remain as unexploded ordnance.

Therein lies a loophole that allows the U.S. to sell these weapons abroad.  A 2007 U.S. export moratorium prevents the U.S. from transferring the weapons to a country unless they are shown to have a 99-percent reliability rate, and the importing country has pledged not to use them in civilian areas.

However, as the London-based Action on Armed Violence points out, even a small failure rate means a huge threat to civilians:

It is worth noting that failure rates of submunitions have always been shown to be far higher in combat than in the controlled environment of manufacturer’s testing. As the US Congressional Research Service noted in a recent assessment, the potential for a sub to become a dud can be affected by a range of factors, from the temperature of the air, to the chance that the sub could be caught in a tree.

Besides, cluster munitions are typically scattered in very large numbers—thousands of submunitions fall across an area at a time. A tiny failure rate will still leave a large threat to civilians. That cluster munitions continue to kill and injure civilians for many years is one of the many reasons why the international community saw fit to outlaw their future use or transfer. Sixty per cent of cluster bomb casualties occur while the victim is undertaking their normal activities.

“Cluster munitions have been banned by more than half the world’s nations so any transfer goes against the international rejection of these weapons,” stated Sarah Blakemore, director of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), a campaign that works to ban the weapons and prevent the harm they cause to civilians.

Further, stated Blakemore, “This transfer announcement comes at a time when Saudi Arabia and the US have joined international condemnations of Syria’s cluster bomb use.”

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