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Cluster bombs now illegal in 111 countries. Guess who still wants them ? May 30, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, politics.
Tags: ,

In Dublin a historic agreement, initiated last year by the Norway government, has been signed today by 111 countries who thereby banned cluster bombs, and vow to get rid of their stocks of these devices in the next eight years, as well as to not produce, store, or use them any more.

Cluster bombs are horrble devices that disperse hundreds of mini-bombs on the ground. These can be active for years and have caused more than ten thousand reported victims among civilians so far. There are several different designs for cluster bombs, aimed at very diverse targets – wikipedia has a very informative entry on them.

Now guess which were the countries that voted against the ban. Surely uncivilized, retrograde, war-mongering states ? Well, you got it. The United States, Russia, Israel, India, China, Pakistan. That’s about right.



1. Tripitaka - May 31, 2008

War, what a disgusting and shameful concept

2. Amara - May 31, 2008

I was following these cluster bomb negotiations during the last week, and it was clear one week ago, that the US, one of the largest manufacturers of cluster bombs were not going to be involved in the agreement. They didn’t even send anyone to the talks!

If anyone wants to know more about the end effect of cluster munitions, just read a 1980s history of Afghanistan.. the Soviets disguised their cluster bombs as toys so the Afghan children would pick them up and blow their arms and legs off.

3. goffredo - May 31, 2008

Dear fellows. Read history. And then more. War really is disgusting and shameful and innocent people get butchered. And everyone that has lived through one knows it very well.

First read any good book on WW2 as it is a very recent war and occurred in civilized europe and the parents or grandparents of the oldest of us lived it and tells us about their first hand experience.
Then read a book on how WW1 broke out and how the value of human life AFTER that war had dropped to very low levels, how the totalitarian systems codified this and how WW2 unleased TOTAL war. THEN read Thucydides. You will discover how humans have always been disgusting, shameful and easily trash innocent lives. All inspite of civilization and high moral thoughts. Thucydides’ books on the Peloponnesian wars form a manual on human nature. It should be hammered into the heads of all of school going youngsters that the layer of civilization of humans today is NO thicker that the layer of the greeks 2500 years ago.

The way to stop wars is not to pass laws against this or that weapon, as there are people and regimes that do not respect laws especially when wars do break out. These lawful attempts are practically and theoretically empty. It is far better, practically and theoretically, to understand how we tick, how our grievances take shape and how they feedback on how we tick, how we percieve threats and how we are manipulated by individuals, groups and supergroups and how all of us, individuals and groups of all sizes and shapes get pushed and pulled by the “invisible hand” to the point of making war. It is better to understand these forces (vectors) and tensions (tensors) and then, through effective diplomacy, which is best when there is military credibility, try to diffuse/relax/channel them before the path to innate barabarism is free of obstacles. It is best to understand, once a war has broken out, how people react to mistakes, setbacks, losses, suffering, both real and imagined (thru information), that the best way to win a war is to think you can win it rather than simply tie. A thermonuclear war did not break out because neither side (USSR and USA) thought it could win. Thank God! But what happens if there is a Hitler decided to drag his whole country and people into Hell with him? Not all payers are rational.

The real problem is that humans have a very short memory. These lessons have to be re-learned every so often. That is why history should be read and studied, meditade upon and lessons learned, not about how avoid this or that material or poltical mistake, but how low humans can really go once they start fighting. That is why I do not believe in the practical and theoretical effectiveness of banning weapons or war with international laws or nice sentences in Constitutions.

4. dorigo - May 31, 2008

Jeff, while I do agree with some of the things you say above (I will go in the details tomorrow), there is one thing that I think you are missing. By passing a ban -one who was agreed upon by everybody, including the most belligerant states- humanity would step forwards. Sure, the ban would not prevent atrocities of all kinds from happening. But it would pass an important message across the world, which would have a chance at shaping the minds of human beings. The same thing can be said about the death penalty.

There are things some of us morally cannot accept. If we all agreed on the dishuman nature of these -I mean, if 95% of the world agreed, and if this 95% included the totality of economical superpowers, then we would be on the right track to try and make our message accepted everywhere. Economical pressure by that 95% would have a large impact. Instead, we have USSR and US making distinguos on this and that, Israel aligned with the US, China pitching in because they want to count too, India showing they have the bomb and they don’t care, and Pakistan following suit. A global ban would create strong pressure toward the acceptance of some key concepts everywhere.

Unfortunately we are not there yet. And why is that so ? Did you ask yourself why the US government is so concerned about losing such an important tactical weapon as cluster bombs ? Because of a diminished power of their army ? Come on. It is all about money. Dirty one, for sure. The US does not bother joining in these initiatives because they want to show they make their own law, but there also is another reason, and that is dollars. Made producing, using, and selling these bombs, which kill and dismember civilians, mostly children, all around the world. If you do not find this morally despicable, I do not think we can discuss the other interesting points you make in your comment, because they become irrelevant if compared with this disagreement.


5. Amara - May 31, 2008

Dear Tommaso, Yours and Jeff’s disagreement might fall into one of those classic debates regarding human nurture versus nature. Your point is important, stressing the value of international cooperation to get rid of insidious practices, but in a war situation where humans become as animals, will it make any difference? Why _do_ humans become as animals, and is there anything we can do to evolve our nature so that such behavior stops?

Jeff, I posted something a long time ago here for evolution psychology references. Look at the last one by Keith Henson. His hypothesis is that: population growth leads to a resource crisis. An impending resource crisis activates a behavioral switch in humans allowing the build up of xenophobic or dehumanizing memes, which synchronizes attacks on neighboring tribes.

As another reference to what humans can become in ‘recent epochs’ (here WWII), there is a book called _Walking Since Daybreak_ by historian Modris Eksteins which tells the story of the Baltic countries before, during, and after World War II. He chose Spring 1945 as the (obvious) climax of his story, and through his book we jump in time, forward from the 1850s, backward from the 1990s to reach that fulcrum of enormous devastation and frenzy and the ‘nothingness’ of Spring 1945. He used personal vignettes of his and other family’s lives, to bring our views to something we can understand, and he used particular regions in the Baltics and Germany to pinpoint our attention in physical space while the political landscape constantly shifted with the major players in the second World War.

When he presents his story, we see that the roles of victims and perpetrators are not very clear at all, and representing historical events, especially of the eye of the storm that was 1945, is ultimately impossible. He shows that to understand what happened in Spring 1945, the story must be told from the perspective of those who survived, resurrecting those who died, so it is told ‘from the borders’ of a common home of humanity today. The historical story(ies) then becomes an assemblage of fragments, memory, reflection and narrative. Among the deeply disturbing things he writes about 1945 we learn that what happened at that cataclysm in the middle of the last century cannot be comprehended. The Russian deaths in the ‘Great Patriotic War’ are thought to have exceeded 27 million. The Germans lost 3.8 million solders killed, and probably an equal number of German civilians died. Another three million solders were captured by the Russians, and of these about one million did not survive. Six million Jews died, and several hundred thousand French, English, American, Canadians, were killed, and so the list goes on. In that cataclysm, the whole continent of Europe was on the move, the roads of Europe were clogged. A State Department report in June 1945 estimated the total number of refugees in Europe at 33 to 43 million. The Allies faced an enormous problem as hundreds of thousands of refugees fled westward; so the Allies blew up bridges leading west in order to stop the tidal wave of fleeing humanity. Germany became a wasteland. Between 1943 and 1945, the Allies dropped about *1.25 million tons* of bombs on German soil, most cities were unrecognizable even to people who had lived there all of their lives. A normalization of horror ensued. What the Allies rained down from the sky invoking fear, the Soviet advance invoked terror: rape, pillage, murder, burn, and rape again.

The crux of his book is the following point, which I believe supports Jeff’s point, and so I’ll quote Modris Eksteins:

The number of human beings who died in this conflict was staggering enough, but something else was gravely wounded: the entire Enlightenment tradition. It could not, contrary to some assertions, emerge from the war strengthened. As T.S. Eliot put it, Germany and Japan, ‘these two aggressive nations, … did but bring to a head a malady with which the world was already infected; and their collapse only leaves the world with the disease in every part of its body’. […]

Before we can move forward, we must come to some kind of terms with 1945, with what it represents. A start would be the recognition that 1945, with its devastation, displacement, and horror, was the result not just of a few madmen and their befuddled followers, not just of ‘others,’ but of humanity as a whole and of our culture as a whole. Nineteen forty-five is not our victory, as we often like to think; 1945 is our problem.

6. carlbrannen - May 31, 2008

Rather than defend my own country, I’d like to point out that it’s highly unlikely that the Soviets engineered cluster bombs (or any other kind of bom) so that it looked like a toy. That’s just not normal military activity. If a state had the desire to kill children the traditional techniques are sufficiently effective. Instead, the story smells of western propaganda. The first thing to die in war is the truth.

If anything, it would be normal to design cluster bombs so that they are brightly colored and easy to see. It is possible that this would be attractive to children. However, the purpose would be to make them easier to pick up and neutralize.

Far worse than cluster bombs are air (or artillery shell) dispersed land mines. Mine fields are not designed to kill everything so much as they are designed to slow a military force down. The force is slowed down because the people in it are afraid of setting of another explosion and become very careful. Similar things can be accomplished with techniques that are not so hazardous, like concertina wire and ditches. Anyway, air disbursed mines are designed to be difficult to see and are probably worse than cluster bombs as far as civilian casualties.

7. Amara - June 1, 2008

Carl, I don’t doubt that there is a lot of propaganda going on, and on both sides. The story as I heard it came from an book written in the 1980s by an Afghan named Idries Shah, so at least it came from different source than what you linked above.

8. nc - June 1, 2008

‘Now guess which were the countries that voted against the ban. Surely uncivilized, retrograde, war-mongering states ? Well, you got it. The United States, Russia, Israel, India, China, Pakistan. That’s about right.’

I’m surprised and cheered that Britain isn’t included on that list, seeing how many wars the government is fighting at present. It’s nice that we are at least using civilized weapons in Afghanistan and Iraq!

9. AOJ - June 1, 2008

Hi NC,

Don’t be too cheered about Britain’s participation: (exciting loopholes described in link)


I suppose baby steps are better than no steps though…

10. forrest noble - June 2, 2008

Am not sure that not making cluster bombs is necessarily the whole answer. Cluster bombs consist of maybe a thousand different grenade size bomblets that have flutes on them. When dropped, the mother bomb opens up and when the bomblets reach a certain RPM before they hit the ground they explode and saturate an area with shrapnel. If the design were to include a “fool-proof” dis-enabler that would disarm and neutralize the few faulty grenades upon ground contact, then it would seem that there would be no problem like there is today, innocent people being killed and maimed by old cluster bomblets that never exploded.

If such a design improvement can be made then a impartial international testing entity might verify if there still could be a future risk. It is not just cluster bombs that need such a design change, many or all different types of unexploded bombs and mines continue to pose serious threats to innocent people and also need such disarming (possibly time sensitive) aspects to their design. Sure that will ad a lot to their cost but if you wanta play you gotta pay, I say.

your friend forrest

11. dorigo - June 2, 2008

Forrest, bombs have always killed civilians, and are mainly designed for that purpose, because it was discovered in the last century that bombing cities rather than industrial peripheries was more effective a means of winning wars. So making bombs more “intelligent” is useless if not an insult, when our governing bodies remain as dumb.


12. dorigo - June 2, 2008

Amara, thank you for the quote. I cannot but agree with it, especially the last part, which I repeat below:

1945, with its devastation, displacement, and horror, was the result not just of a few madmen and their befuddled followers, not just of ‘others,’ but of humanity as a whole and of our culture as a whole.

This is a violent concept, but unfortunately quite a good description of reality. And I remain a pessimist on the future of humanity, since I see no improvement in the last sixtythree years.


13. dorigo - June 2, 2008

Yes NC, Britain signed it at the very end of the process. I agree with AoJ, though – it is a small step forwards. Small, but forwards.


14. dorigo - June 2, 2008

Hi Tripitaka,

do you know what my son asked me yesterday, when we discussed the images of a documentary and war in general ? He said, why do they have to kill people ? Couldn’t they decide the matter with a game of tennis-table ?


15. Guess Who - June 2, 2008

TD, since you are playing the pessimist today, ley me play the optimist (always eager to contradict) and point to Pinker’s entry at


(scroll to the bottom of the page). Maybe even WWII was a “minor” fluctuation on a larger long term trend?

16. Andrea Giammanco - June 2, 2008

Goffredo, your objections are reasonable, but here we are not talking about nuclear bombs (for which I could concede that bans are a very difficult issue to decide: how can super-powers give up, knowing that somebody else could build them? and if super-powers don’t give up, what else can “legally” prevent other countries from building them, apart from the Law Of The Strongest?).
Here the issue is much more similar to “should poison gases be forbidden?” (question to which, after WWI, the answer became universally yes; those countries who didn’t respect the ban, like Mussolini’s Italy, where boycotted).
This ban makes sense, and doesn’t pose any big issue to USA or anybody else, for a simple reason: USA doesn’t need cluster bombs to win wars, come on! At most, cluster bombs can be more effective than other bombs, but don’t make a substantial difference (while atomic bombs do).
Probably this move against the ban is just motivated by the profit of some lobby of bomb producers.

17. Roberto - June 3, 2008

Andrea, I agree completely with your statement. The ban makes sense, and if it is of course not a global solution, it can locally improve the situation in term of civilian victims.
bombing cities instead of military targets is definitely not an effective mean to win a war, although I agree this was a widespread conviction in military circles and could still be in some of them. Which tells a lot about the intellectual level of soldiers in general.
During WWII indiscriminate bombing of German cities was pursued by Allied forces, and that did not hasten the end of the war, but rather delayed it. See for instance what Freeman Dyson, who served on the british Bomber Command during the war, wrote on the subject in “Disturbing the Universe”.

I report as well a short quote from Dyson, from a different source, which I already mentioned in a comment to another blog:

“At the beginning of the war, I was a follower of Ghandi, morally opposed to all violence. After year of war I retreated and said, -Unfortunately it seems bombing is necessary to win the war, but I am morally opposed to bombing cities indiscriminately.-
When I arrived at Bomber Command and discovered we were bombing cities indiscriminately, I said -This is morally justified as it’s helping win the war.-
A year later I said, -Our bombing is not helping win the war, but at least I’m helping save the lives of bomber crews.-
In the last spring of the war I had no excuses and had no moral position left.”

18. stephen - June 3, 2008

Wake up folks, War is horrible but it is going to ahppen until th end of time: the only way to ensure that our country stays on top is to make sure we have these weapons so we can destroy the enemy as quickly as possible

19. dorigo - June 3, 2008

Hmmm, your country. And, excuse me, but on top of what ?

Maybe you mean the 16th place in the world ranking of countries with the highest fraction of poverty ?

Or the second -worst infant death rate among civilized countries?

Or on top of the production of deadly weapons ? Oh, no. I get it. The US is certainly ranking clear first in the number of prisoners. A quarter of the world’s inmate population.

Get real, Stephen.


20. dorigo - June 3, 2008

Hi GW,

maybe. I too end up being an optimist on the long run. But I have my flukes, too 🙂


21. dorigo - June 3, 2008

Hi Roberto,

well, bombing the giaps did appear to help – dropping the atom bombs was justified ex post with the claim that it quickly ended the war with Japan. Yes, at what cost in human lives…

In any case, I largely agree, the excesses of Curtis le May are mostly forgotten. I was being provocative… But we still get US bombings of Iraq every decade or so today, and those bombs kill civilians despite their alleged “intelligence” and well chosen targets. Or one might mention Bosnia and Serbia. I do not have an answer. I think there still is the concept that making lots of casualties makes things easier in war actions nowadays, in the mind of some. It is mitigated by the fear of causing too much outrage, but it has not disappeared.


22. goffredo - June 4, 2008

no specific comment. Just some input to keep things in correct perspective.

The ratio of soldiers killed to soldiers that surrendered on the western front, including the butchering in Russia, was 1-to-4. Instead on the eastern front for every japanese soldier that surrendered 250 were killed! That is a factor 1000!

23. dorigo - June 4, 2008

Hi Jeff,

interesting datum – but I do not understand why you bring that up. What conclusions do you draw from that large factor ?


24. goffredo - June 4, 2008

I brought it up regards the US using the A-bomb on Japan. My very personal opinion about the A-bombings: in the total war against Japan the US made a mistake to use the bomb on Nagaski. It probably was not necessary. Hiroshima made sense. Nagasaki instead turned the japanese into victims.

Japanese soldiers were not expected to fight as long as it was possible; they were expected to win or die. Overwhelming enemy forces, lack of weapons and ammunition, fatigue or wounds of any size and shape were simply not acceptable excuses. Surrender was not contemplated. And the incredible thing is that the very vast majority of japanese soldiers really did their ultimate duty. When commenting the war in the far east of the allies against the japanese and when commenting the atomic ending it is absolutely necessary to keep this in mind.

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