Stop the fence-sitting in cluster bomb use – the Convention on Cluster Munitions | 10 August 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the use of cluster bombs in the Russia-Ukraine War and the international treaty to ban them.


  • GS2: Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora;
  • GS3: Science and Technology- Developments and their Applications and Effects in Everyday Life;
  • Prelims


  • The article discusses the decision by the United States to send cluster munitions to Ukraine as part of a military aid package to support Ukraine's war efforts against Russia.
  • It highlights the controversy surrounding cluster munitions and their impact on civilian populations.
  • The article also explores the international legal framework surrounding the use of cluster bombs.


  • What are Cluster Munitions?
    • Cluster munitions, or cluster bombs, are weapons that release multiple explosive submunitions, also called bomblets, into the air.
    • These submunitions explode as soon as they hit the ground, killing and maiming people in the area.
    • Many bomblets do not blow up instantly and remain dormant for years (also known as the dud rate). These inactive bomblets act as precarious landmines, posing a grave threat to the civilian population, including women and children, for a long time.
    • They were used in the Second World War. Since then, cluster bombs have been used on multiple occasions, including by the U.S. in the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
    • According to the Cluster Munition Monitor, anywhere between 56,000 to 86,000 people have died in cluster munition-affected countries, since the 1960s.
    • Russia has been accused of using cluster bombs against Ukraine, resulting in civilian deaths and damage to civilian infrastructure. Now, Ukraine's use of these weapons will worsen the situation.
  • The Convention on Cluster Munitions:
    • The international campaign against cluster bombs led to the enactment of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in 2008.
    • The CCM bans the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster bombs.
    • However, the treaty is not universal — 112 countries have acceded to the CCM including many North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members such as Canada, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.
    • But important countries such as the U.S., Russia, China, Israel, and India have not signed the CCM. Ukraine is not a member.
  • Use of Cluster Munitions and Violation of Customary International Law:
    • Even though Russia and Ukraine are not signatories to the CCM, their use of cluster bombs violates customary international law.
    • Customary international law prohibits indiscriminate attacks and requires the use of force to be discriminate and proportional.
      International law on armed conflicts has always drawn a distinction between combatants and civilian populations and between civilian objects and military objectives. In this regard, a fundamental customary international law (CIL) norm applicable to armed conflicts is the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks. In other words, an essential canon of international law is that the use of force must be discriminate, that is, the force should target specific military objectives and not civilians. This CIL norm is codified in Article 51(4) of Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, to which both Russia and Ukraine are parties. Given the nature of cluster bombs, their usage is a classic example of indiscriminate use of force that fails to differentiate between combatants and civilians, or between civilian objects and military objectives, and is thus illegal.
    • The use of cluster bombs is considered indiscriminate and violates the principles of international humanitarian law.

Way Forward:

  • Cluster bombs are indiscriminate weapons that pose a significant threat to civilian populations. The use of these weapons has been condemned by various organizations and governments worldwide.
  • To protect civilian populations, there is a need for a universal ban on cluster bombs. This will prevent the use, production, and transfer of these weapons, ensuring that they are not used in any conflict, anywhere, by anyone.

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