Cluster Munitions and State Terrorism
by Beau Grosscup
For decades, major global and regional powers have waged war against those they accuse of fighting immorally—that is, those who use terrorism to harm civilians at home and abroad. Paradoxically, these righteous “wars on terror” are being fought in an era in which the distinction between war waged only against soldiers, and war against soldiers as well as civilians has virtually collapsed. The technological development, stemming from the Industrial Revolution, of aerial bombardment and weapons of mass destruction has made it more difficult to separate citizen from soldier.1
More importantly, theories regarding how to fight and win modern war view civilian populations as cannon fodder for both conventional arsenals and weapons of mass destruction. Post-First World War strategic bombing theory saw the industrial home front as a central part of the battlefield. Post-Second World War nuclear strategic theory purposely targets major population centers. These theories have collapsed any soldier/citizen distinction. Nevertheless, for the political and military interests of the major powers, it is imperative that this distinction hold. In waging wars on terror, such a delineation permits globally powerful nations to rally public opinion under the assertion that what separates us (self) from them (other) is that civilian life is paramount for us and not for “the terrorists.”
Among the global powers, the “bombing nations” (primarily the United States, Great Britain, Israel, and Russia) have conducted their various air wars on terrorism under “rapid dominance theory,” euphemistically known as “shock and awe.” Rapid dominance theory is the latest revision of classical post-First World War strategic bombing theory. Though modified in some respects, the central goal of shock and awe remains consistent with strategic bombing policy: to rain terror from the skies on civilians and their infrastructure, thereby forcing capitulation of their political/military leadership. Thus, like its predecessor, it is a strategy of state terrorism.2
The bombing nations’ use of cluster munitions reinforces this point on two levels. First, due to their design and strategic purpose, cluster munitions have a proven catastrophic impact, commonly associated with terrorism, on civilian life. Yet, through the use of and fight against efforts to ban cluster munitions, the bombing nations demonstrate a strong commitment to these instruments of state power. Second, cluster munitions and the terror they produce serve the bombing nations’ strategic political and military interests in both war and postwar settings. Moreover, in their efforts to dodge the terrorism label, the bombing nations’ campaign to divorce cluster munitions from terrorism have created arguments that are logically and legally flawed.
What Are Cluster Munitions and Why Are They Controversial?
Cluster munitions are air-dropped (bomblets or “bombies”) or ground-launched (grenades) ordnance that expel smaller submunitions. The Military Analysis Network describes cluster munitions as small, explosive- or chemical-filled weapons designed for saturation coverage of a large area. The military purpose (both offensive and defensive) of cluster munitions is to destroy an enemy in place, or to slow or prevent enemy movement away from or through an area. Classified as antipersonnel ordnance, they can easily penetrate buildings and armor. When cluster munitions explode, each bomblet can kill people within fifty meters, over a “footprint” of approximately one thousand by one thousand meters.
The Soviet Union and Germany were the first to develop and use cluster munitions at the end of the Second World War. Today, the major cluster munitions producers include such U.S. firms as Alliant Techsystems, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Textron. Other notable manufacturers are Poongsan and Hanwha (South Korea), BEA (Great Britain), Rheinmetall (Germany), Rocketsan (Turkey), and Israeli Military Industries (Israel).3 To date, at least fifteen countries have used cluster munitions. The United States saturated Indochina with cluster munitions in the 1970s. The Soviet Union employed them in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In the post-Cold War decades, the bombing nations have used cluster munitions in Chechnya and Georgia (Russia), the former Yugoslavia (U.S.-led NATO), Afghanistan and Iraq (United States and Great Britain), and Lebanon and Gaza (Israel). In total, billions of submunitions are held in the arsenals of eighty-five nations.4
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