Friday, December 12, 2008

Arms Control Treaties

Stuart Koehl at the Weekly Standard takes a look at the latest trend from the peacenik crowd - a proposal toward the banning of cluster bombs. 100 nations signed such a treaty in Oslo recently. Cluster munitions are small bomblets that are delivered by larger delivery systems such as an artillery round or rocket, aircraft bomb or cruise missile, and can be quite sophisticated (such as an infared heat seeking warhead designed to penetrate and destroy enemy tanks) or something relatively straighforward, comparable to a hand grenade. Koehl explains what is seen as the issue:

"It is the simpler type of cluster bomb which has given the nervous nellies of the international humanitarian community the willies, mainly because the earlier versions of anti-personnel submunitions had a high dud rate (upwards of 30 percent in some instances) but remained armed and dangerous for years afterwards, creating a hazard for livestock and civilians who might accidentally tread upon them or innocently pick them up."

Not good, and I'd agree that there are issues with such weapons; however, on the flip side, there is this little nugget. There is great military utility to these weapons, as they are a very useful and lethal way of killing entrenched bad guys, as those little bombs roll into their trenches. Such weapons proved extremely useful in the Gulf Wars and the Israeli conflict with Hezbollah. The big problem with the treaty is it treats all such weapons as the same, and there are significant differences in the stockpiles of nations that produce them. The US stocks, for instance, doesn't have the problem of leftover munitions as the bomblets are self-sanitizing and deactivate themselves after a few hours time. Such smaller munitions often actually allow for more precision in dropping the bad guys and reduce collatoral damage to buildings and the people in them, really a good thing when there are civilians in the area.

Keohl points out the technical side of the equation, pointing out that if you don't use lots of little bombs to get the job done, you've got to use a really big one:

"Submunitions were developed because unitary munitions are very inefficient: most of their blast and fragmentation effect is directed outward from the point of impact, which means that the lethal radius increases only as the cube root of weapon yield. Thus, a 500-lb bomb can create a crater some 25 meters across and can destroy soft targets in the open out to several hundred meters, but a 1000-lb bomb gets you only less than 100 meters more lethal radius for a doubling of the weight. At the point of impact, a unitary weapon produces massive overkill--but the effect falls off rapidly as one moves away from the point of detonation. Submunitions, in contrast, disperse uniformly over a large area. While each submunition has a rather limited blast effect (most dual-purpose submunitions weigh about 1-2 kg), because several hundred are sewn over an area of several hundred meters, the entire area has a uniformly high kill probability."

A 1000 pounder does the neighborhood really no good. Koehl says the issue reminds him of the landmine issue, which is admittedly another problem, but he also points out that it isn't one to which 9again) the US contributes. It's the irresponsible use of mines by aggressor states and their terrorist clients that are causing all the problems with civilian casualties. In a modern tactical sense, mines are very useful items to have around your perimeter to slow the enemy or to constrain the movement of the whatever bad guys you might be facing into prepared areas where you can pour down the thunder on them. Mines are probably one of the major items in preventing a renewal of the Korean War, making it very difficult for Dr. Poofy Hair's half million man army from re-invading the South. As the author puts it:

"Instead of banning mines, the international community should look to real cause of civilian mine casualties--the use of mines by unlawful combatant groups that don't care about civilian casualties anyway (I include the Soviet Union among these unlawful combatants, since they deployed in Afghanistan mines that were designed to look like children's toys), and the use of mines by badly trained armies that do not follow the well established procedures for laying minefields, including marking the extent of the fields, drawing diagrams of the fields so that they may be traversed, and removing the mines once their tactical utility has ended. We do all of those things; most of our enemies do not. Technology is helping to reduce the potential for civilian casualties due to "lost" mines. As with submunitions, most of our mines now have electronic fuses that operate off a battery with a very limited life. When the battery dies, the mine becomes inert. You would really have to work hard to set one off after that point. Since mines can be made from just about anything (the VC used a wooden box, a lump of C4 plastic explosive, a 7.62mm rifle cartridge and a nail), banning mines will really only affect Western standing armies, which for the most part use their mines in a responsible manner. It does nothing at all to inhibit people like al Qaeda, Hamas, or Hezbollah, who can always make their own, minus all the safety features."

Yet another empty gesture by the feel good crowd that accomplishes no real benefit to anyone and makes them feel morally superior and able to lecture the big boys, most of whom will just ignore them anyway. China, Russia, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Brazil, along with the US, didn't sign the treaty.

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