Catholic social teaching places great value on human life and is generally opposed to the use of force. In some cases however it concedes that force, even lethal force, may be justifiable as a last resort. Why then did the Vatican City State ratify the Convention Against Cluster Munitions?
What are Cluster Munitions?
Custer munitions – also known as cluster bombs – are large weapons which release dozens or even hundreds of smaller submunitions. They may be dropped from the air or fired from the ground using artillery or rockets. Between 5 and 30% of the submunitions fail to explode on impact. They may lie concealed in the ground or covered by vegetation and explode years later.
Why should these weapons be banned?
The use of force must be a last resort, and it can only be considered for the defense of innocent lives. Even if these conditions are met, the use of force must discriminate or distinguish between combatants and civilians, and the suffering caused must not be greater than the good to b achieved. Cluster munitions are not able to meet these tests.
Cluster bombs cannot be used to defend innocent people because they cannot distinguish between combatants and civilians. They are intrinsically indiscriminate weapons.
Catholic Social Teaching regards the use of any indiscriminate weapon as morally wrong. Chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, and any weapon of mass destruction, can never be used in a way that is morally acceptable. If there is no morally acceptable way to use a weapon, it should be banned.
Cluster bombs continue to cause injuries and death for decades after they are deployed. Often the victims of unexploded ordinance are agricultural workers and children. Cluster bombs and landmines hamper post conflict reconstruction. The harm they cause is disproportionate to any good they might achieve.
In the Asia Pacific region Cambodia, the Lao PDR, and Thailand are affected by cluster munitions used in armed conflict. The USA used cluster munitions extensively in Indochina in the 1960s and 1970s. The Cluster Munitions Coalition website reports that “the International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that in Laos, nine to 27 million unexploded submunitions remain, and some 11,000 people have been killed or injured, more than 30 percent of them children. An estimate based on US military databases states that 9,500 sorties in Cambodia delivered up to 87,000 air-dropped cluster munitions.” Unfortunately the problem is more than an historical legacy. As recently as February 2011, Thailand dropped cluster munitions on Cambodian territory.
It is time to ban these weapons everywhere.
The Convention Against Cluster Munitions entered into force in August 2010. It bans all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of Cluster Munitions by countries that are parties to the Convention. The Convention also addresses assistance to victims, clearance of contaminated areas and destruction of stockpiles.
We can all encourage governments to ratify the Convention if they haven’t already done so, stop producing cluster munitions, destroy stockpiles of these weapons, assist in clearance of unexploded ordinance, and address the needs of victims.