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Cluster Munitions and State Terrorism

Beau Grosscup (BGrosscup [at] is professor emeritus of International Relations, California State University Chico. He is the author of The Explosion of Terrorism (2002) and Strategic Terror: The Politics and Ethics of Aerial Bombardment (2006). He is also co-host of Peace and Social Justice on KZFR Community Radio in Chico, California.

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

The use of cluster munitions, especially those dropped from thousands of feet, has provoked controversy. Despite claims of precision bombing, cluster munitions are dumb (unguided), rather than “smart” or “brilliant” ordnance, with the exception of the BLU-108/B Sensor Fuzed Weapon and Wind Corrected Munition Dispenser. Surface-fired submunitions are the “dumbest” of all. In the primarily urban context of contemporary war, the dispersal and indiscriminate destructive power of exploded cluster munitions is guaranteed to kill or maim civilians. A significant percentage of cluster munitions fails to explode in the air or upon ground impact, and thus, these bomblets become “unexploded ordnance.” Though hard to determine, the average failure rate is said to be 5 percent, but it can be as high as 40 percent. Even in optimal test conditions, up to a quarter of submunitions fail to explode on impact. The failure, or “dud,” rate increases dramatically on terrains of mud, snow, or forest. Failure rates also vary depending on the type of submunitions. Studies show a failure rate of 16 percent for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps surface-fired M-26.5 Classified Pentagon documents released by WikiLeaks in October 2010 reveal over eight thousand cases of unexploded munitions in Iraq alone.6

Unexploded submunitions are labeled “explosive remnants of war,” meaning they remain in postwar zones to kill or maim civilians, one-third of whom are estimated to be children. One million of the four million cluster munitions that Israel dropped on southern Lebanon in the last week of the 2006 war with Hezbollah became explosive remnants of war. Overall, studies show 40 percent of the duds on the ground are hazardous, and, for each encounter with an unexploded submunition, there is a 13 percent probability of detonation. In 2006, Handicap International reported that, over the past three decades, 98 percent of casualties from cluster munitions were noncombatants.7

Due to the catastrophic effects on civilian life, an effort to ban cluster munitions began in 2007. The Norway-led Oslo Process resulted in the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. As of November 2010, 108 states had signed the convention. Forty-six nations had also ratified it, making it binding international law. Yet most of the major producers, sellers, and users of cluster munitions (i.e., United States, Russia, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, Brazil, and Turkey) adamantly refuse to sign the convention. Led by the United States and its bombing allies, they have instead engaged in a public campaign to discredit the Oslo Process and champion the military utility and legality of cluster munitions.

The Campaign Against the Convention on Cluster Munitions

Under strident U.S. leadership, opponents of the convention have dismissed the legitimacy of the Oslo Process, arguing that any negotiations on weapons limitation should be conducted under the Geneva-based 1983 Conference on Control of Weapons Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). This CCW preference reflects a history in which the big weapons powers, the United States, China, and Russia, have dominated Geneva’s “consensus-driven” agenda with a “go slow and aim low” approach. Indeed, until June 2007, the United States had opposed any consideration of cluster munitions in the CCW. Four months into the Oslo Process, the United States suddenly agreed to CCW cluster munitions deliberations but not to a total ban. Today the CCW remains stalled over dud-rate calculations and which munitions will be covered.

The United States and its allies have also taken direct aim at the Oslo convention, criticizing it for jeopardizing national security, especially if their enemies have not joined, creating strains on alliance structures and making peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts more difficult. Russia’s arsenal consists mainly of outdated cluster munitions, so Russian officials have denounced the Oslo convention because it bans only old types of cluster munitions, but not newer high-tech weapons. Ronald Bettauer, head of the U.S. delegation to the CCW, deemed cluster munitions as more “humane” than other weapons, arguing that, without them, certain missions would require superior firepower, potentially causing greater loss of life and infrastructure damage. Summing up the sentiments of many critics of the Oslo convention, John Pike of caustically dismissed the agreement as a “feel good” treaty for countries that do not fight wars.

Claims of a “technological fix” are often invoked to undercut the Oslo agreement. The United States pledged in 2001 to lower the unexploded ordnance dud rate to 1 percent or less. However, it was not until shortly after 111 nations, including major U.S. NATO partners, adopted (but did not sign) the Oslo convention that word of a “technological breakthrough” materialized. On July 8, 2008, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the United States had successfully developed submunitions that met the 1 percent standard. The United States, Gates said, would deploy the new type of submunitions exclusively, beginning in 2018. Katherine Baker and Stephen Mathias, members of the U.S. CCW delegation, also touted technological advances in sensor-fused weapons that have improved guidance systems as well as self-destruct capabilities. U.S. officials reiterated their strong commitment to postwar cleanup operations.

These arguments gave political cover to supporters and critics of cluster munitions in the U.S. Congress, who hailed the Pentagon’s new policy as a viable alternative to the Oslo convention. Current U.S. Department of Defense policy is to refrain from using cluster munitions after 2018 unless they meet the 1 percent failure rate, effectively putting the cluster munitions controversy to rest within U.S. corridors of power. Yet factors of cost and production make deployment of new cluster weapons unrealistic. In addition, the United States has an estimated stockpile of 700 million to 1 billion cluster munitions, with dud rates at or above 5 percent, which it intends to use in pre-2018 conflicts.8 As a result, the weapons of terror remain central to the U.S. “war on terrorism.”

The discourse of “warspeak” has also been used to sanitize the destructive power of cluster munitions.9 For the U.S. public and media, the terminology “collateral damage” effectively masks the death and destruction of cluster munitions to civilian life. Within U.S. military and corporate circles, the approved “techno-speak” for cluster munitions starts with “soft-targets”—a euphemism for human bodies—and ends with “explosive remnants of war” or unexploded ordnance, meaning hazardous munitions remaining on or in the ground that, with the slightest disturbance, kill or maim civilians. Cluster munitions are delivered by “strike packages,” “platforms,” and “weapons systems” (aircraft). Aircraft do not launch munitions but fly “sorties,” provide “air support,” “visit a site,” and do “kinetic targeting.” They drop “force packages,” “ordnance,” and “antipersonnel devices,” often in a “routine limited-duration protective reaction” (air raid), causing an “airburst” (warhead or cluster munitions set to explode above the ground to maximize effect). “Incontinent ordnance delivery” means that a bomb missed its target and may have caused “collateral damage” or “regrettable byproducts” (civilian casualties). “Assets” (targets) are not destroyed but “visited,” “acquired,” “taken out,” “serviced,” or “suppressed.” Cluster munitions do not kill, they “eliminate,” “neutralize,” “degrade,” “hurt,” “smoke,” “blow away,” “suppress,” “impact,” “cleanse,” “attrit,” or “terminate with extreme prejudice.”

According to warspeak advocates, cluster munitions are essential in “precision bombing” to win “clean,” “high-tech,” or “robo” wars. Yes, air war enthusiasts admit, “accidents” do happen, missiles “go astray,” but then “war is hell,” “a dirty business.” Cluster munitions are “nasty” but necessary weapons. In its refusal to adopt the Oslo convention, the Russian foreign ministry proclaimed cluster munitions as legal and necessary to Russian defense. Besides, the Ministry statement said: “Any munitions are dangerous and inhumane.”10 Likewise, U.S. officials assert that cluster munitions are only used on military targets and in accordance with the law and international agreements, “in order to minimize their impact on civilian populations.”11

Other bombing nations have played important roles in the campaign against the Oslo convention and in justifying cluster munitions. Israeli officials launched a staunch defense of their massive use of cluster munitions in the mid-2006 war in southern Lebanon. Echoing the arguments that cluster munitions are legal and cause less damage than a regular (500-1,000 kg) bomb, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that it had fulfilled all of its responsibilities under international law such as “avoidance of deliberately harming civilians, the principle of proportionality, and the need to take reasonable care.” Asserting that it had only attacked military targets, the Ministry statement leaned heavily on the concept of “dual-use targets” (facilities with both military and civilian functions). Thus, Israel Defense Force “operations are directed only against legitimate military targets (the terrorists themselves, the places from which they launch attacks against Israel, facilities serving the terrorists, and objectives that directly contribute to the enemy’s war effort).”12 In 2007, an internal Army investigation into the Israel Defense Force’s use of cluster munitions also found that no international humanitarian law had been broken. The Israel Defense Force’s chief investigator, Major General Gershon HaCohen, admitted that cluster munitions were dropped on residential areas but only in response to Hezbollah rocket attacks and in areas in which no civilians were present.13

Despite being the third-largest user of cluster munitions, Great Britain signed the Oslo convention in May 2008, but only after British officials had limited the convention’s impact on their ordnance. First, they reclassified one of two cluster munitions (Hydra CV-7 rocket system, which can launch 171 “M73” bomblets) as no longer in the cluster category. Second, they insisted that the Israeli-made M85 is to remain in their cluster arsenal due to its “smart” and self-destruct technology. Yet, during Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006, the M85 failed on both counts, causing heavy Lebanese civilian carnage.14 Both British moves reflect a continuing commitment to cluster munitions and a response to a U.S. warning that signing the Oslo convention would place British forces fighting alongside U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in criminal jeopardy. Further U.S. pressure on Britain to violate the Oslo convention is evident in a secret cable released by WikiLeaks in November 2010. In an agreement purposely hidden from Parliament, the British government has allowed the United States a “temporary storage exception for specific missions” for its cluster munitions on British soil, in violation of Britain’s commitments under the convention.15 Likewise, the United States responded to the Afghan government’s decision to sign the Oslo convention by insisting that the United States could “still legally use cluster munitions on Afghan territory under the treaty, even if the Afghan regime itself could not.”16

Their campaign against the Oslo convention illustrates the bombing nations’ uncompromising commitment to cluster munitions. Yet it is only the latest act in their vociferous defense of cluster munitions as they continue to fight their “wars on terrorism.”

Dodging the Terror Label: In Defense of Cluster Munitions

As a “privilege of power,” the bombing nations have dominated the global discourse on terrorism so that at home and abroad the terrorist tag applies exclusively to their designated “enemies.” Yet, since they insist on using cluster munitions, evading the terrorism label has become increasingly important. Central to their “dodging” effort is the “intent” argument. Cluster munitions, they assert, though dangerous to civilian life, do not intentionally target civilians or noncombatants. Thus, their strategic scheme does not match the core definitional criteria of terrorism. Theoretically, this position relies heavily on the supposition that there is a meaningful distinction between bombing intending to kill civilians (terrorism) and bombing with the knowledge that you may kill civilians (war).17 In practice, this argument rests on the assumption that intent (especially that of the terrorist) is always known, and that legally, intentions matter.

Debunking the Intent Argument

The moral, social, and political universe of global powers is shaped by “self/other” analysis, which then structures the bombing nations’ intention to use violence. Briefly put, Western liberal capitalist nations are seen as a product of superiority (civilized), while the rest of the world (the inferior, uncivilized other) presents a threat to the superior-self. Historically, the European powers labeled this race-based dichotomy “the West and the Rest.” This self/other distinction vital to “the culture of imperialism” justifies (1) the violence required for the establishment of the liberal political community; (2) the violence for its self-defense; and (3) the violence required to civilize the “other.” The intent under which liberalism operates, as political theorist Margaret Canovan writes: “is not a matter of clearing away a few accidental obstacles and allowing humanity to unfold its natural essence. It is more like making a garden in a jungle that is continually encroaching.”18

In the creation and defense of the superior “self,” the continuous use of violence is justified as necessary. Or as Talal Asad asserts, “The absolute right to defend oneself by force becomes, in the context of industrial capitalism, the freedom to use violence globally: when social difference is seen as backwardness and backwardness is a source of danger to civilized society, self-defense calls for a project of reordering the world in which the rules of civilized warfare cannot be allowed to stand in the way.”19 Within this context, the bombing nations’ intent, often expressed under the moral umbrella of “just war theory,” is to preserve the civilized order via “a project of universal redemption” in which “some humans have to be treated violently in order that humanity can be redeemed.”20 Central to their current “redemption project” (the war on terror) is the bombing nations’ intention to produce, sell, and use cluster munitions.

General intent is also evident in the preference for air power as the instrument of violence in the current “redemption project.” All munitions are launched with two intentions in mind. First, they are intended to land somewhere on Earth. Second, they are intended to cause harm to something or someone. While important as a general criticism or reminder of the horrors of war, these intentions collapse any meaningful distinction between war and terrorism, if all bombing is indiscriminate. So far, however, the distinction remains intact, due to the fact that, by definition, simply selecting targets (whatever they may be) to bomb makes bombing discriminate.

It is clearly nonsense to claim that the intentional targeting of civilians is consistent with a policy that distinguishes war from terrorism. As cluster munitions defenders acknowledge, these weapons are used with the awareness that they will cause civilian casualties—but such defenders still assert that the use of such weapons is legitimate as long as there is no intent to inflict such harm. Yet the use of such weapons, knowing full well that they will harm civilians (and indeed mostly civilians), is by any rational standard intent to harm civilians—even if civilians are not the specified target. This is particularly true of cluster munitions. They are intentionally designed, as antipersonnel weapons, to explode in air, causing death and destruction beyond the immediate target. Anti-landmine and cluster munitions activist/researcher Rae McGrath makes this point:

All cluster munitions are designed to disseminate sub-munitions over an area within which a target or targets are located. Another way of expressing this design element of the weapon is that it is designed to impact an area wider than the target or targets of the weapon—thus striking areas that, by definition, contain no legitimate targets.”21 He continues: “Since the first wide-scale use of cluster munitions by the United States in South East Asia, it has been the common practice of all military forces to incorporate the indiscriminate nature of the weapon type within their war-fighting strategies.22

Cluster munitions are intentionally produced and used with full knowledge that as designed, a significant proportion will not work. Even if the “best of intentions” to redesign them with a 1 percent failure rate are successful, civilians, in both war and postwar contexts, are the most likely victims of the bombing nations’ duds. Whether cluster munitions explode in air or not, the continued use of these weapons makes the bombing nations’ real intentions clear.

Defenders of cluster munitions, that is, principally, the strategic military planners of the big weapons states, claim that, because “war is hell,” civilian casualties are bound to occur. They assert that terrorists intentionally make the hell of war more terrible, indeed morally repugnant, for civilians, since, in the confrontation with the “civilized” world, they are operating at a technological disadvantage—operating outside of the normal, “civilized” confines of war and employing asymmetric warfare. Therefore, terrorism is a weapon of the weak, and “uncivilized.” Hence, there is a “strategic imperative” for terrorists to invent (or get possession of) technology with greater, more indiscriminate killing power: to exploit or even overcome their asymmetries. The bombing nations operate under a similar strategic imperative, often stated as needing to “out invent” the terrorists (as well as current or potential state enemies) by developing better antipersonnel weapons to be directed against terrorists. As a result, cluster munitions are seen as part of military advancement to enhance the position of the “civilized.”

In discussing the restraints that the Hague Convention of 1899 imposed on “man-killing weapons” or “deliberate barbarities of design,” military historian John Keegan notes that the “rise of ‘thing-killing’ as opposed to man-killing weapons—heavy artillery is an example—which by their side-effects inflicted gross suffering and disfigurement, invalidated these restraints. As a result restraints were cast to the winds, and it is now a desired effect of many man-killing weapons that they inflict wounds as terrible and terrifying as possible.”23 Cluster munitions, with their jagged metal fragments, Keegan says, are by intentional design, one of the most lethal human-killing weapons—produced by the same kind of strategic imperative that allegedly drives terrorists and their terrorism.24

The bombing nations have also intentionally chosen rapid dominance theory, better known as “shock and awe,” to wage modern war. Originally conceived as a strategy of terror, the central goal has been to undermine the political will of civilians to resist by directly targeting residents in major cities. Operating under the assumption that civilians (women and children) lack the fortitude to withstand terror from the skies, the bombing would force a quick surrender of the nation’s political and warrior classes. In its latest reformulation, rapid dominance theory, the strategic goal remains the same: to wreak havoc on a nation’s military and civilian life in order to force immediate surrender. As to purpose, the authors of rapid dominance theory, retired General Charles Horner and military analyst Harlan Ullman, are clear: “Our intent, however, is to field a range of capabilities to induce sufficient Shock and Awe to render the adversary impotent. This means that physical and psychological effects must be obtained….The target is the adversary’s will, perception, and understanding.”25 Given this strategic intent, using cluster munitions makes sense. The horror civilians experience is immediate, due to the airburst, and long term, given the unexploded ordnance that remains a danger. In short, as antipersonnel weapons of indiscriminate nature in war and postwar settings, cluster munitions are ideal in accomplishing Horner and Ullman’s stated intent: “to destroy, defeat and neuter the will of an adversary to resist,” with the “adversary,” that is supposed to be subject to the psychological effects often seen as extending to the civilian population.26

To their dubious credit, cluster munitions advocates loudly proclaim their intent to abide by the international legal prohibition against targeting noncombatants. Yet, under both the Hague and Geneva Conventions and under just war theory, any target may be legally attacked if military commanders deem it to be a “military requirement” or “military necessity” to winning the war. This loophole means (and has meant) that the intent to follow international law allows nations legally to bomb with the strongest of intentions whatever they deem a “military necessity.”

A companion claim is the aim only to attack military targets. Yet the bombing nations have intentionally adopted dual-use targeting as a strategy for the prosecution of their wars. Thus, any part of the civilian infrastructure (e.g., electrical grids, dams, transportation and communication facilities, etc.) that is deemed necessary for the enemy’s war effort is classified as a military target. And, by extension, those who run such necessary civilian infrastructure are seen as no longer protected by their civilian status, that is, they too become legitimate “military” targets. It is also the bombing nations’ intent (insistence) that they alone determine what is a dual-use target.

Historically, as war has continued, the determination of what dual-use targets are of “military necessity” has expanded to where, “in order to win,” virtually every element of enemy society is intentionally a prospect for bombing. As Pentagon officials said before the 2003 shock-and-awe bombing of Baghdad: “If no white flag is seen…the political imperative to keep civilian casualties to a minimum will have to be put aside.”27 Strategic intent is also registered in the decision to fight an urban-based enemy from long range. To save their warrior class from the deadly nature of door-to-door urban warfare, cluster munitions were the weapon of choice for Russia on Grozny in 1999, the United States on Fallujah in 2004 and Sadr City in 2008, and Israel on Gaza in late 2008 to early 2009. British Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram noted that, though not legal under international law, cluster munitions were “dropped on ‘built-up areas’ in Iraq in an attempt to protect British servicemen.”28 In sum, to the horror of millions of civilians, the intent to produce, sell, and use cluster munitions registered in the rejection of the Oslo convention rests on the repeated assertion that these weapons are a “military necessity” of modern warfare, as they are the most effective tool to destroy dual-use targets in urban areas.

As noted above, intentional use of cluster munitions is often defended on the basis that they “cause less collateral damage” (kill/maim civilians) than larger ordnance. While demonstrating an intention to fight wars as humanely as possible, declaring that you intend to minimize civilian casualties implies you know you will harm civilians per se. Also, claiming that other weapons are more destructive to civilian life (and buildings, infrastructure) than cluster munitions does not disqualify cluster munitions as weapons of terror. It could be that the defenders of cluster munitions are attempting to make a distinction between themselves (warriors), who intend to minimize civilian distress (since they could use cruder, more totally-destructive weapons), and others (terrorists) who intend to maximize it and are willing to use any weapon at hand, the more destructive the better. Yet this is not a distinction the defenders of cluster munitions normally make. Nor do they ever define or quantify what “minimal” or “minimize” means.

Given their stated policy to forgo enemy civilian “body counts,” it is impossible to know if their intent to “minimize civilian casualties” is effective or in the slightest way meaningful. Even if they did “body counts,” a calculation can only be made in the abstract or after the bombing ends. The big war machines systematically downplay civilian casualties, especially in areas like unexploded ordinance. The same problem of comparison only in the abstract is true concerning the principle of proportionality, the legal requirement that an attack cannot be launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be greater than the anticipated military advantage. Finally, undermining even the best of intentions to “minimize civilian losses” is the reality that close to 98 percent of cluster bomb victims, as previously mentioned, are civilians and the fact that the dangers of cluster munitions to civilians are both foreseeable and preventable.29 Thus, choosing to use cluster munitions means knowingly and therefore intentionally doing great and predictable harm to civilians.

In sum, the intent defense falls short both in theory and practice. While there is a difference between bombing to kill civilians and bombing knowing you may kill civilians, in prosecuting war with cluster munitions, where all but a tiny portion of victims are civilians, it is not a meaningful difference.

State Terrorism: The Strategic Importance of Cluster Munitions

The bombing nations will continue the production, sale, and use of cluster munitions because they are an essential component of their strategy to conduct modern war. When they work as designed, within their footprint they kill or maim both soldiers and “the ocean they swim in,” or assumed sympathetic enemy civilians. As unexploded devices, they help control the combat zone and terrorize its inhabitants. Once the war has ended, with the enemy gone, unexploded ordnance remains to remind former enemies of the killing power of the past war’s adversary. Despite their protestations, military strategists do not mind when cluster munitions fail. Whether the weapons work as designed or not, they terrorize the “other” in both war and peace. It is a reality that the former and current enemies of the United States (e.g., Indochina, Iraq, Afghanistan), Russia (Chechnya, Georgia), NATO (Serbia), and Israel (southern Lebanon, Gaza) and millions of “others” confront daily, with no relief in sight.

Cluster munitions also match military strategists’ well-known preference for offensive warfare. As antipersonnel weapons, they are crucial to thwarting enemy troop movements and hunting down “terrorists” and their allies on foreign soil. Cluster munitions are also ideal to rapid dominance theory’s central premise that producing shock and awe in enemy populations will bring quick surrender.

Despite their rhetorical protestations to the contrary, military strategists favor cluster munitions because they are weapons of state terror. They are a “strategic fit” in fighting and winning modern wars, while cowing the civilian “other” in postwar peace. Thus, until and unless it suits their strategic and ideological purposes, the bombing nations will either reject the Oslo convention outright or effectively mitigate its effects. Meanwhile, they go on conducting their war of terror, firmly convinced of their military and moral superiority. But, as Calab Carr documents in The Lessons of Terror, they do so at great peril to themselves and to the rest of us.30


  1. See T. V. Paul, James J. Wirtz, and Michael Fortmann, eds., Balance of Power: Theory and Practice in the 21st Century (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004).
  2. See Beau Grosscup, Strategic Terror: The Politics and Ethics of Aerial Bombardment (London: Zed Books, 2006).
  3. See Explosive Portfolios, “Bank Groups and Cluster Munitions” (July 2006),; and Disinvesting from Cluster Munitions Producers, chapter 3, April 2010, The report is also available at Stop Explosive Investments
  4. Cluster Munition Coalition,
  5. “Cluster Bombs,” Global Security,
  6. “Explosive Remnants of War (ERW)/Turn In,” WikiLeaks Iraq War Diaries, October 22, 2010,
  7. Kathleen Maes, “Fatal Footprint: The Human Impact of Cluster Munitions,” Handicap International, November (2006),
  8. Congressional Research Service, Cluster Munitions (January 11, 2001): 4-5.
  9. “Warspeak” is the newspeak of war, in the Orwellian tradition.
  10. Sergei Balmasov, “World’s Leading States Justify Use of Cluster Bombs Even If They Kill Children,” Pravda.Ru, March 16, 2009,
  11. “Pentagon Pledges To Build Less Deadly Cluster Bombs,” Associated Press, Taipei Times, July 9, 2008.
  12. Chris Jones, “Israel Defends Use of Cluster Bombs,” December 24, 2007,
  13. Ibid.
  14. Colin King Associates, LTD., “M85, ‘An Analysis of Reliability,’” Norwegian People’s Aid (2007),…/submunition-M85-an-analysis-of-reliability-Norwegian-People’s-Aid-2007.
  15. Rob Evans and David Leigh, “WikiLeaks Cables: Secret Deal Let Americans Sidestep Cluster Bomb Ban,” December 1, 2010.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Richard Norman, “What’s Wrong with Terrorism,” New Humanist 116, no. 4 (Winter 2001), see
  18. Margaret Canovan, “On Being Economical With the Truth: Some Liberal Reflections,” Political Studies, 38 (1990), 16.
  19. Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing (New York: Colombia University Press, 2007), 62 (Italics mine).
  20. Ibid., 2.
  21. Rae McGrath, “Campaigning Against Cluster Munitions—Strategic Issue, Discussion Paper,” October 2004, 5,
  22. Ibid., 6.
  23. John Keegan, The Face of Battle (Hammondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1978), 329.
  24. Likewise, Talal Asad in On Suicide Bombing observes that, while critical of terrorists for the imperative (intent) to wreak harm on civilians, the civilized world (liberal states) are applauded as morally and strategically correct for operating under the same strategic imperative (intent) to design weapons causing even greater harm to civilian life.
  25. Harlan Ullman, James Wade, Jr. et al., Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance (Washington, DC: NDU Press, 1996), 2.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Sunday Times, March 16, 2003 (Italics mine).
  28. Paul Waugh, “Allied Use of Cluster Bombs Illegal, Minister Admits,” Independent, May 29, 2003,
  29. Ann De Ron, “98 Percent of Cluster Bomb Victims Are Civilians,” Inter Press Service, November 3, 2006,
  30. Calab Carr, The Lessons of Terror (New York: Random House, 2003).
2011, Volume 62, Issue 11 (April)
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