363. The Ministry of Defence defines cluster munitions
A cluster munition is an air-carried or ground-launched
dispenser, containing numerous sub-munitions, which is designed
to eject those sub-munitions over a predefined target area. Cluster
munitions are not the same as anti-personnel landmines and are
not covered by any weapon-specific conventions, including the
364. During the debate in Westminster Hall on the
Report we produced last year and subsequently in questions to
both the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International
Development and the Foreign Secretary we raised the Government's
policy on cluster bombs. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of
State explained that the Government had "always made clear
that we want progress on the elimination of particularly the so-called
"dumb" cluster munitions".
The Foreign Secretary said that
We are happy to work with the Oslo Declaration
but our objective is to work through the CCW [Convention on Certain
Conventional Weapons] process to try to get agreement. There is
nothing wrong with the Oslo process and that is why we were happy
to go along and to be part of it and encourage it, but engaging
those countries who are producers and users of cluster bombs seems
to us to be a more productive way forward and that is why we are
seeking in parallel to work through the CCW process.
The Foreign Secretary confirmed that the Government's
objective was to phase out the use of "dumb" bombs and
to encourage others to phase them out and to work for a treaty
that bans them.
365. We also asked the Government what it was proposing
to do with its own stock of cluster bombs, and in a memorandum
in March 2007 the Government explained:
On 4 December 2006 we stated in a Written Ministerial
Statement the UK position on cluster munitions and that we would
withdraw dumb variants by the middle of the next decade. On 15
December, in debate in the House of Lords, we explained that we
were examining the possibility of bringing this date forward.
We have now completed our assessment and, as we stated in a Written
Ministerial Statement on 20 March 2007, we will now withdraw our
dumb cluster munition variants with immediate effect.
366. On "smart" bombs the Government said
that it would retain the 155mm L20A1 artillery round, which contained
the M85 sub-munition and which it did not consider to be a "dumb"
cluster munition due to each sub-munition having a self-destruct
mechanism. The Government explained that "this will remain
in service until approximately the middle of the next decade (although
this date is subject to review). Consequently, the Government
does not consider it possible to work for an early international
agreement to ban all cluster munitions."
367. "Dumb" cluster bombs have a failure
rate which is estimated to be between 25% and 30% and even "smart"
cluster bombs may have a failure rate which may be between 5%
and 10%. In other
words, even in cluster bombs which have a relatively sophisticated
self-destruct mechanisms, up to one in 10 bomblets (or ejected
sub-munitions) that do not explode will lie live on the battle
field. The potential to inflict death and injury on innocent non-combatants
entering the field after the engagement is therefore substantial.
368. We congratulate the Government on its support
for a ban on "dumb" cluster bombs and on its commitment
to withdraw the UK's stocks of "dumb" cluster munitions
with immediate effect. We note that the Government has excluded
any commitment to ban "smart" cluster bombs. We recommend
that the Government also withdraws "smart" cluster bombs,
provided that an operational alternative is available for military
use to counter massing troops in formation on the battlefield.