May 29, 2016 Robert Naiman / Just Foreign Policy & John Hudson / Foreign Policy & Stop Cluster Munitions.org
"Frustrated by a growing death toll, the White House has quietly placed a hold on the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia as the Sunni ally continues its bloody war on Shiite rebels in Yemen . . . It's the first concrete step the United States has taken to demonstrate its unease with the Saudi bombing campaign that human rights activists say has killed and injured hundreds of Yemeni civilians, many of them children."
VICTORY! Obama Blocks Cluster Bomb Transfers to Saudi Arabia Riyadh's air war in Yemen has killed and injured hundreds of civilians. Washington is finally trying to stem the carnage Robert Naiman / Just Foreign Policy
(May 28, 2016) -- Foreign Policyreported Friday: "Frustrated by a growing death toll, the White House has quietly placed a hold on the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia as the Sunni ally continues its bloody war on Shiite rebels in Yemen . . . It's the first concrete step the United States has taken to demonstrate its unease with the Saudi bombing campaign that human rights activists say has killed and injured hundreds of Yemeni civilians, many of them children."
We've been campaigning for this for months. Of course, we're not done.
As Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch points out, the pledge by the White House to "halt" US cluster bomb transfers to Saudi Arabia lacks clarity: it's not clear if the Administration's "hold" applies to weapons already poised for shipment, or only to future requests.
Moreover, we want to codify this policy into law, so a future President can't transfer cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. As Human Rights Watch says, we shouldn't be transferring cluster bombs to anyone -- Saudi Arabia or anybody else.
As Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy says, we need to hold all US weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia accountable to human rights concerns, not just the transfer of cluster bombs.
The real solution for ending civilian casualties in Yemen is a diplomatic and political agreement that ends the war. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is invoking ISIS as an excuse to complain about restrictions on the stockpiling of cluster munitions imposed in 2008 by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Still: a victory is a victory is a victory. Shakespeare said that many times.
Can you help us celebrate by funding our continuing campaign to eliminate cluster bombs? Just Foreign Policy, 4410 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, #290, Washington, DC 20016
(May 27, 2016) -- Frustrated by a growing death toll, the White House has quietly placed a hold on the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia as the Sunni ally continues its bloody war on Shiite rebels in Yemen, US officials tell Foreign Policy. It's the first concrete step the United States has taken to demonstrate its unease with the Saudi bombing campaign that human rights activists say has killed and injured hundreds of Yemeni civilians, many of them children.
The move follows rising criticism by US lawmakers of America's support for the oil-rich monarchy in the year-long conflict. Washington has sold weapons and provided training, targeting information, and aerial refueling support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. It has also sold Riyadh millions of dollars' worth of cluster bombs in recent years.
Asked about the hold on the shipments, a senior US official cited reports that the Saudi-led coalition used cluster bombs "in areas in which civilians are alleged to have been present or in the vicinity."
"We take such concerns seriously and are seeking additional information," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The hold applies to CBU-105 cluster bombs manufactured by the US-based firm Textron Systems. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Saudi-led forces have dropped CBU-105 munitions in multiple locations around Yemen, including Al-Amar, Sanhan, Amran, and the Al-Hayma port.
Cluster bombs contain bomblets that scatter widely and kill or injure indiscriminately. Sometimes bomblets fail to detonate immediately and can kill civilians months or even years later. The weapons were banned in a 2008 international treaty that arms sales giants, including the United States and Russia, refused to sign.
Responding to humanitarian concerns, the United States has scaled back exports of cluster bombs and demanded changes in the munitions' performance, such as banning those with a higher fraction of submunitions that do not explode on impact.
A 2009 US law prohibits exporting cluster bombs that have a failure rate of above 1 percent. It also says the weapons cannot be used "where civilians are known to be present" and only against "clearly defined military targets."
The CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon has been touted for meeting the 1 percent requirement. But a February report by Human Rights Watch cited evidence the weapon was used in two attacks in Yemen, and had a failure rate that exceeded 1 percent. "The evidence raises serious questions about compliance with US cluster munition policy and export rules," said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch.
The group has investigated at least five attacks in Yemen involving CBU-105s in four governorates since the war began. In December, the group documented an attack on the Yemeni port of Hodaida that injured a woman and two children in their homes. Two other civilians were wounded in a CBU-105 attack near Al-Amar village, according to local residents and medical staff interviewed by Human Rights Watch.
The Obama administration has issued several statements of "concern" about the violence in Yemen, but has yet to formally announce any reduction in military or tactical support for the coalition. A US official touted the fact that Washington's "engagement" with Riyadh has led to the kingdom's commitment to an inquiry into civilian deaths in the conflict.
"Saudi Arabia has also pledged to create an investigations commission to evaluate military targeting, ensure the protection of civilians, and investigate incidents of civilian harm during the conflict in Yemen," said the US official. "This is a vital step towards protecting civilians, and also avoiding future civilian harm."
While praising the decision to hold the sale of cluster bombs to Riyadh, prominent humanitarian groups told FP it's not enough.
"Any step toward ending the production and sale of cluster bomb munitions by the United States government is a good thing, but much much more needs to be done," said Sunjeev Bery, advocacy director at Amnesty International. He said his organization pushed -- unsuccessfully -- to block a $1.3 billion sale of smart bombs to Riyadh that the United States approved in November.
It remains unclear if the Obama administration's hold will affect a tranche of cluster bombs poised for shipment to Saudi Arabia, or simply all future requests. The United States concluded a contract for the manufacture of 1,300 CBU-105 weapons to Saudi Arabia in 2013. The final shipment of such weapons can take years to complete, but US officials have repeatedly refused to clarify if the order's final tranche was delivered.
"Textron Systems does not comment on delivery dates with our customers," said Matthew Colpitts, a spokesman for Textron Systems.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
Since March 2015, when Saudi Arabia launched its military campaign against the Houthi rebellion in Yemen, at least 6,200 people have died and nearly 3 million have been displaced from their homes. The conflict is often viewed as a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia, which backs the Yemeni government in exile, and Iran, which has provided some support to Houthi rebels, who are part of a Shiite sect.
Although aid workers have stressed Yemen's dire humanitarian situation, counterterrorism experts note the protracted fighting and chaos has allowed al Qaeda's affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula to strengthen its position in the country.
Though the conflict is in its second year, it is only beginning to be eyed skeptically by US lawmakers.
A proposed defense-spending bill approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee calls for creating a capital fund to expedite the supply of precision guided bombs for "partner and allied forces."
Although the bill does not specify which allies lawmakers have in mind, human rights groups and at least one senator are concerned that the provision could be used to make it easier to deliver more sophisticated bombs to Saudi Arabia.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) proposed an amendment Thursday to strip the language out of the defense bill on grounds the provision could enable Saudi Arabia to expand its air campaign despite the mounting civilian toll, his office said.
The senator was also concerned that the provision in the defense bill could make it easier for an administration to involve the United States "in other foreign entanglements with limited oversight," Murphy spokesman Chris Harris told FP.
Murphy on Thursday also proposed another amendment, along with Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, to impose stricter conditions on future sales of bombs to Saudi Arabia.
The proposal would require the US president to certify that the Saudi government is demonstrating an effort to target terrorist groups, minimize harm to civilians, and enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance before Congress can consider selling or transferring air-to-ground munitions.
"Saudi Arabia is an important partner, but the United States needs to recognize when a friend's actions are not in our national interest," Murphy said in a statement.
"There's no evidence that the Saudi campaign in Yemen, enabled by the United States, advances our interests or makes us any safer," Murphy said. "In fact, the civil war in Yemen is prolonging human suffering and playing into the hands of the same terrorist groups that are working to attack Americans."
The United Nations is trying to broker a peace deal between the internationally recognized Yemeni government and Houthi rebels.
On Thursday, after a series of delays and theatrics, UN special envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said peace talks were back on track in the host city of Kuwait after being suspended last week.
Ahmed said both sides indicated willingness to hold talks to reach a resolution, though similar promises have been made in the past.
Foreign Policy's chief national security correspondent Dan De Luce contributed to this report
A cluster munition, also known as a cluster bomb, is a weapon containing multiple explosive submunitions. Like landmines, these submunitions can remain a fatal threat to anyone in the area long after a conflict ends.
Cluster munitions are dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground or sea, opening up in mid-air to release tens or hundreds of submunitions, which can saturate an area up to the size of several football fields. Anybody within the strike area of the cluster munition, be they military or civilian, is very likely to be killed or seriously injured.
The fuze of each submunition is generally activated as it falls so that it will explode above or on the ground. But often large numbers of the submunitions fail to work as designed, and instead land on the ground without exploding, where they remain as very dangerous duds (see photo above).
There are a wide variety of types of cluster munitions. According to the Cluster Munition Monitor, a total of 34 states have at one time developed or produced over 200 types of cluster munitions.
The definition of cluster munitions under the Convention on
Under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, cluster munitions are defined and prohibited as a category of weapons. The definition of a cluster munition under Article 2 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions is "a conventional munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms, and includes those explosive submunitions."
Therefore, the ban on cluster munitions, and all relevant Convention obligations such as stockpile destruction, applies both to the container and all the submunitions it contains.
Sometimes explosive submunitions are not held within a container, but are released or dispersed by dispensers fixed to aircraft. The Convention explicitly mentions that these weapons, known as "explosive bomblets," are included under the ban.
Article 2's definition includes not just the description of what is banned, but also what is not considered a cluster munition. Article 2(2)(a) and 2(2)(b) exclude a munition or submunition designed to dispense flares, smoke, pyrotechnics or chaff, or designed to produce electrical or electronic effects.
The definition also excludes "a munition designed exclusively for an air defence role," meaning a munition that can only be used against targets in the air. Weapons that are designed to have utility against both aerial and ground-based targets are, however, banned.
In addition, Article 1(3) states that the Convention does "not apply to mines," meaning it does not ban munitions that disperse one or more mines (antipersonnel mines are banned under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty).
Article 2(2)(c) lists the characteristics of a set of munitions with submunitions, the use of which is not believed to cause "indiscriminate area effects and the risks posed by unexploded submunitions."
Any munition meeting all five of the criteria listed in Article 2(2)(c)(i-v) are not considered cluster munitions under the Convention. Munitions meeting only four or less of the criteria are considered cluster munitions. For example, a munition that has less than 10 submunitions, but is not designed to detect and engage a single target object, is a cluster munition.
Most delivery systems, be they warships, aircraft, artillery, or rocket launchers, can launch different types of munitions, including both banned cluster munitions and unitary munitions that are not banned.
For this reason, the Convention does not ban any delivery system, and States Parties therefore have no obligation to remove them from service or destroy them.
For More Information
While the Convention's definition is straightforward, given the wide variety of munitions and submunitions that have been or may be developed, there still may be questions over whether individual weapon systems are banned. In this case, there are several places to find more information.
* States Parties and some signatories have already identified a wide variety of cluster munitions in their Article 7 reports and also presented in the Cluster Munition Monitor country profiles.
* A list of the types of cluster munitions declared in stockpiles already reported by States Parties as of April 2013 is available on page 2 of the Cluster Munition Monitor stockpile destruction factsheet.
* The Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) has a web-based cluster munitions identification tool that not only helps identify unknown weapons, but also clarifies whether they fall under the Convention.
* If the name of the weapon system is available, it may be possible to find out more about it from online weapons databases, such as those at the Federation of American Scientists, James Madison University's ORDATA or Global Security.org.
* The CMC briefing paper 'Cluster Munitions: A Banned Weapon' is a useful two-page guide on what a cluster munition is.
The cluster bomb ban was achieved because people from around the world took action. It will only be joined and enforced by all countries if individuals and groups around the world come together and demand it.
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