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Join cluster bomb ban.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Ninety-three countries, including NATO allies and Afghanistan, adopted a treaty Thursday that bans cluster bombs, insidious weapons that have killed and maimed more innocent civilians than soldiers throughout the world.

The United States not only refused to sign the treaty, but Bush administration officials did their best to sabotage it before the signing ceremony in Norway. President-elect Barack Obama should review the indefensible U.S. position on the weapons and join other countries in ratifying the new international treaty.

Cluster munitions are artillery shells, bombs or missiles that contain hundreds of small bomblets that scatter over vast areas. Many do not explode on impact and can easily be detonated by unsuspecting civilians, often small children who are attracted by their bright colors and believe they are toys.

Handicap International estimates that 98 percent of cluster bomb victims are civilians - a horrifying one-third of them children.

The United States is the world's largest producer, stockpiler and user of cluster bombs. Iraq and Afghanistan are among the nations where U.S. troops have used these pernicious weapons - and the toll they have taken on civilians in Afghanistan prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to resist U.S. pressure to oppose the treaty.

U.S. officials insist that the Pentagon must have such weapons and implausibly argue that cluster bombs can be more humane than conventional bombs. James Lawrence, director of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement of the State Department, cites the weapon's ability to take out an antenna on a roof without destroying the entire building. That's small comfort to small children or farmers who have lost their legs after an encounter with a cluster bomblet.

There is reason to hope that Obama will reverse the U.S. position on cluster bombs and join 18 of this country's 26 NATO allies in signing the treaty. As a U.S. senator, Obama voted for a measure that would have restricted the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. Opposed by the Bush administration, the measure failed by a 70-30 vote.

The Bush administration's refusal to sign the treaty has emboldened other large countries - most notably China, Russia, India, Israel and Pakistan - to reject the ban. The United States, Russia and China alone have an estimated billion cluster munitions in their military stockpiles - far more than treaty signatories have agreed to destroy.

The new treaty goes into effect as soon as it is ratified by 30 countries, and other countries can join after it is formalized. Obama should make certain the United States is among the first to sign.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Obama should reverse Bush's stance against treaty
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 7, 2008
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