Mattis orders a halt on cluster bomb ban

Well, it looks like cluster bombs won’t be riding off into the sunset any time soon. The Pentagon has officially decided to hold off on enforcing a planned ban on the weapon system, which previously set to take effect on January 1, 2019.

CBU-105 at the Textron Defense Systems’s trade booth, Singapore Airshow 2008 in Changi Exhibition Center. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

According to a report by the Washington Post, the decision was made by “senior Pentagon leadership” and ensures that the systems will continue to be purchased. This same ban would have also restricted rockets used by the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, as well as versions of the BGM-109 Tomahawk, AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon, the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), and the MGM-164 ATACMS II.

A ZSU-23 is hit by BLU-97 sub-munitions like those used on the BGM-109D Tomahawk. (DOD photo)

A Nov. 30 memo, signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, stated that “adversaries and potential adversaries have developed advanced capabilities and operational approaches specifically designed to limit our ability to project power.” As a result, the DOD decided to reverse the ban to avoid “military and civilian casualties” caused due to “forfeiting the best available capabilities.” It should be noted that, under certain circumstances, cluster bombs can do things that “smart bombs” can’t.

The decision drew criticism from Senator Patrick Leahy, who said, “on the eve of that deadline, the Pentagon has decided to go back on its commitment, just as it did after pledging to develop alternatives to antipersonnel landmines more than two decades ago.” Leahy and Senator Dianne Feinstein had sponsored legislation to codify policy from the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions into law.

lockheed martin_multiple launch rocket system mlrs

The Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) is a highly mobile automatic system that fires surface-to-surface rockets from the M270 and M270A1 weapons platform. Twelve MLRS rockets can be fired in less than one minute by the three-man crew, as well as two Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles. Both the MLRS rockets and ATACMS have cluster munition variants. (Photo by Lockheed Martin)

We won’t get into politics here, but it should be noted that neither Senator Leahy’s nor Senator Feinstein’s official congressional biographies show military service. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, by contrast, has 42 years of military service and is the first general or flag officer to serve as Secretary of Defense since George C. Marshall.

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