Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Cluster Munitions

57 protesters have been arrested following demonstrations against the Defence Systems and Equipment arms fair in London. Disturbingly, two protesters, who entered the venue, were arrested under recent anti-terror legislation. This is the first time that the new terror laws have been applied to legitimate protesters.

Chief among the campaigners complaints was the availability at the trade fair, of cluster munitions from Pretoria-based Denel. This despite the organisers' assurances that there would be no cluster weapons, or torture devices present.

A cluster bomb or shell is a delivery system which scatters 200 explosive devices over an area of around 80,000m2. They are usually described as having an anti-armour role. In fact, many different configurations are available, including anti-personnel warheads.

Theoretically, they are no more malign than any other weapon. However, the individual sub-munitions have a failure rate of 5 to 15%. This means that for every cluster bomb deployed, there may be up to 30 unexploded bombs which remain within the target area in exactly the manner of land-mines.

It has been suggested that this design fault remains uncorrected because it allows cluster bombs to be employed as a weapon of area-denial where political circumstances render the deployment of land-mines problematic.

Just like land-mines, unexploded cluster munitions often lie dormant, long after the conflict in which they were launched has ended or moved on. Their presence renders any area, be it urban, rural or wilderness treacherously dangerous for the local inhabitants. Their disarming is both perilous and expensive – an expense not included in the purchase price.

Too often, the cost of the aftermath, in lives as well as money is born by local communities.

It is tempting to wonder if, were the manufacturers to be made responsible for the retrieval of all faulty munitions sold, would the weapons remain so cost-effective for long?

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