Every war must end, instructed the U.S. strategist Fred Ikle. But leftover unexploded ordnance can be a war’s legacy, particularly when small and unstable munitions lay around areas where civilians rebuild their lives after the fighting stops. That’s why a new international ban on cluster munitions will take effect on Saturday. The U.S., however, isn’t part of the accord.
More than 30 countries have ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions — the threshold for it entering into force — and over 100 have signed it since 2008. Holdouts include Russia, Israel and the United States. All three of those countries have used cluster bombs in the past decade: Russia during its conflict with Georgia in 2008 (Georgia also used cluster munitions against Russia); Israel during its conflict with Hezbollah in 2006 (Hezbollah also used cluster munitions against Israel); and the U.S. during the initial phases of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. (Neither the Taliban nor Saddam used cluster bombs against U.S. troops.)
There are a variety of cluster bombs, but they generically work like this: the munitions spray out smaller bombs across a given target, so you can cover a wide area and take out enemy vehicles, weapons, and, of course, fighters with a single, relatively small burst. Some versions, like the Wind Corrected Munition Dispenser, equip the bomblets with tech to control their trajectory, making them more like smart bomblets.