Sunday, December 7, 2008


"In principle everything except the explosive can be recycled," says Ola Pikner, Nammo's vice president of marketing. Nammo Demil is a company that recycles munitions. Whole weapons enter the factory; raw materials for civilian use leave it.
The rocket containing the fragments is split open. The bomblets are extracted, the fuses are severed and the copper innards are removed. The explosive is then vaporized using red hot plasma. The copper, aluminum and other metals are salvaged for scrap. The packaging for the bomblets is burnt for heating.

On December 3, 2008 more than 100 countries gathered in Olso to endorse a global ban on cluster bombs. The U.S. was not at this table. The Convention of Cluster Munitions is the sixth global meeting of the Oslo process on cluster bombs, which Norway initiated in November 2006. Norway was the first to sign the treaty this Wednesday, followed by Laos. In Laos, at least 9 million cluster bomblets are still strewn throughout the countryside as a consequence of the U.S. “secret war” which was waged nearly 50 years ago. Afghanistan unexpectedly ratified the treaty after an impassioned lobbying campaign initiated by victims of cluster munitions in the war-torn country. One of them was 17-year-old Soraj Ghulam Habib, who lost both legs to a cluster bomb when he was 10.
Norwegian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Stoere, right, welcomes the Afghan cluster bomb survivor Soraj Ghulam Habib

The treaty prohibits the use, stockpiling and trading of cluster munitions. In addition, it requires that cluster remnants be cleared and that assistance be offered to people harmed by the weapons.

Cluster “bomblets” are housed in containers (artillery shells, bombs or missiles) that scatter them over vast areas. Some fail to explode and lie dormant for years until they are disturbed. The group Handicap International says that 98% of cluster-bomb victims are civilians. The vast majority include farmers tilling land and children attracted by the bomblets' bright colouring.

So how did I get to be such an expert on cluster bombs? The story is pretty innocent. I was working on my wordzlle with Democracy Now droning in the background. I heard Helen Thomas grilling Dana Perino. Helen is one of my all time heroes, so I turned the volume up.

Helen Thomas: “Is the President going to sign the anti-cluster bomb treaty? Apparently this is—"
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino: “Right, this is a treaty that was passed out of the UN Security Council several months ago. We said then that, no, we would not be signing onto it. And so, I think that the signing is actually—we did not participate in the passage of it, and therefore we’re not going to sign it either.”
Thomas: “Why not?”
Perino: “What I have forgotten is all the reasons why, and so I’ll get it for you.” (Laughter)

I expected no less from Dana Perino. But the laughter in the room was unsettling.

I wanted to know what is it that some would consider more sacred than the life of a child. So I decided to follow the money trail. I Googled “cluster bomb manufacturers” which yielded surprisingly little. I tried “cluster bombs profiteers,” “cluster bomb industry.” Bubkas. You catch the drift.

There’s nothing that makes me more determined to find the truth than when I know that it is hidden in plain sight. After a little more sleuthing, I wound up in a room with the usual suspects, Raytheon, Alliant Tech, Lockheed Martin and a newcomer, Tamahawk. I didn’t bother to research their profit sheets. I knew that in desperate economic times, jobs at these war factories glitter like the bomlet trinkets in the fields.

I found out that no country has more invested in cluster munitions than the United States, which Human Rights Watch says has been the largest producer, stockpiler and user. We have recently discharged the sinister weapons in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. And we have played a central role in two of the world’s worst cases of cluster bomb attacks. The Nixon administration dropped two million tons of cluster bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War. And the Bush administration provided critical support to Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon that also left millions of unexploded bomblets on the ground.

For more information on these agents of death, please see

On a positive note, if there is one, Thomas Nash from the Cluster Munitions Coalition expressed his optimism.
"What you are going to see is a comprehensive stigmatization of the weapon. Countries that don't sign up won't be able to use this weapon on operations with those that do. You're going to see this weapon becoming a thing of the past."

"Fortunately, the world turns on its axis, and the human species evolves,, with or without the United States.


Vago Dish said...

Thank you for this very informative lecture. I did not know that these cluster shells do not explode sometimes. They must be sucha a curious for children to look at and pick up. Then of course it explodes. Not good.

Just another harmful legacy of the US I suppose.

Raven said...

Wonderful and fitting post especially for a day like Pearl Harbor Day.

I have hope that when Obama takes office, the US will sign on to this treaty and rejoin the world court and other things the Bush crazies have refused to do.

And wordzzles helped inspire you (indirectly). Yippee!

magnetbabe said...

Very interesting. Thank you for posting - I still think of when you told me to spread whatever information I could, never knowing who it will reach and what they will do with it.

Christopher said...

Thank you for bringing attention to this. It was very well written. I was surprised to see a letter writer to the Minneapolis Tribune had a letter published on Wednesday titled "Still waiting for U.S. to sign treaty banning cluster bombs." Word is leaking out, slowly but surly.

gabrielle said...

Vago Dish - Thanks for stopping by. All weapons cause pain and loss. But as you recognized, this class is particularly insidious in the innocents that are harmed. Let us hope that this global treaty will end the use of cluster bombs.

Raven - I too have hope that we will rejoin the world community in working for sustainability and peace.

Magnetbabe - Thanks for visiting. Hoping to raise awareness with this post.

Christopher - I am glad to hear that others are focusing on this issue and that it received a wider audience in our hometown paper.

SandyCarlson said...

Thanks for making me aware of this!

Dia said...

Your post (thank you!) reminds me of a novel I recently read that explores the issue of 'dirty uranium' that coats a number of the bombs 'we're' using in the M East, & tanks. Its halflife is shorter than regular uranium (still terribly long!) & again, they effect many civilians & the soil, air, etc. Part of the gulf war syndrom is prob. due to these . . .

Blessings this yule, may we reclaim the desire & commitment to caretake our Earth!