Anti-arms campaigners and human rights groups condemned the US for formalizing the sale of Textron’s CBU-105 cluster bombers — munitions blamed for killing and injuring civilians long after conflicts end, Inter Press Service news agency reported on Saturday.
“Both the US and Saudi Arabia have recently condemned the use of cluster munitions… that’s ironic given this new sale, because a cluster munition is a cluster munition, no matter what kind it is,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a watchdog group in Washington.
He added that the “sale is surprising in the sense that this is a very sophisticated, controversial system because these are cluster bombs.”
“Further, that these weapons are used by Saudi Arabia is questionable from a military standpoint. These weapons have not been used by the US in over a decade, so it’s hard to see why it’s in our interest to sell these to Saudi Arabia.”
Sarah Blakemore, the director of the Cluster Munition Coalition, a London-based advocacy group, also condemned the US move.
“Cluster munitions have been banned by more than half the world’s nations, so any transfer goes against the international rejection of these weapons,” Blakemore said.
“We are disappointed with the US decision to export cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, as both countries acknowledge the negative humanitarian impact of these weapons on civilians. The US should acknowledge the treaty’s ban on cluster munition exports and reevaluate the criteria for its export moratorium so that no cluster munitions are transferred.”
Cluster bombs are weapons dropped by aircraft or fired from the ground, and scatter submunitions over a wide area. Campaigners say that many of these submunitions or bomblets fail to blow up during wars, posing a long-lasting threat to civilians, particularly farmers and children.
An international convention on cluster munitions has been in force since 2010 that requires signatories to give up the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of the weapons. So far 111 states have joined the convention.
The United States, Israel, and Russia manufacture and stockpile most of the world’s cluster munitions. They are among countries which have not signed the treaty. They are negotiating a separate agreement to regulate cluster munitions.
International researchers say the US has transferred hundreds of thousands of cluster munitions, containing tens of millions of bomblets, to 28 countries in the world.
The worst affected countries are Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.
“Cluster munitions stand out as the weapon that poses the gravest dangers to civilians since antipersonnel mines, which were banned in 1997,” the US Campaign to Ban Landmines said on its website.
“Israel’s massive use of the weapon in Lebanon in August 2006 resulted in more than 200 civilian casualties in the year following the ceasefire and served as the catalyst that propelled governments to secure a legally binding international instrument tackling cluster munitions.”
More than 200,000 unexploded cluster bombs have been found and made harmless since 2006, but millions still remain unfound in southern Lebanon.