In May, much of the world signed a treaty outlawing cluster bombs, the Nazi-created munitions that injure, maim and kill indiscriminately long after their initial use. Now comes the U.S. government to announce it will improve its cluster bombs. Eventually.
The world bans an inhumane weapon. We want to perfect it. Embarrassing.
According to The Associated Press, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signed a policy change that would require technical improvements so that, after 2018, more than 99 percent of the bomblets in a cluster bomb must detonate. That would limit -- not eliminate -- the danger of children and other civilians later being hurt by the detonation of unexploded bomblets.
At the end of the Clinton administration, a similar policy was adopted -- with a goal of 2005. A recent Congressional Research Service report questioned whether the 99 percent goal is technically achievable, except in laboratory conditions. U.S. intransigence on cluster bombs is matched by very few nations, among them China, Russia and Pakistan. That's not the type of company we should keep on human rights issues.
When the treaty was adopted in May, backers optimistically predicted that the United States would never again use the weapons, no matter what the government might say. Gates' policy change is a dark suggestion that the administration will try to sanitize a brutal weapon just enough to continue its use indefinitely.
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