A picture of Senator Dianne Feinstein
Dianne F.
Democrat CA

About Sen. Dianne
  • Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

    by Senator Dianne Feinstein

    Posted on 2013-02-28

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    FEINSTEIN (for herself, Mr. Leahy, Mrs. Boxer, Mr. Brown, Ms. Cantwell, Mr. Cardin, Mr. Durbin, Mr. Franken, Mr. Harkin, Mr. Johnson of South Dakota, Ms. Klobuchar, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Rockefeller, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Udall of New Mexico, Mr. Whitehouse, and Mr. Wyden): S. 419. A bill to limit the use of cluster munitions; to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

    Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise today with my friend and colleague from Vermont, Senator Leahy to introduce the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2013.

    Our legislation places common sense restrictions on the use of cluster munitions. It prevents any funds from being spent to use cluster munitions that have a failure rate of more than one percent.

    In addition, the rules of engagement must specify that the cluster munitions will only be used against clearly defined military targets; and will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.

    Our legislation also includes a national security waiver that allows the President to waive the prohibition on the use of cluster munitions with a failure rate of more than one percent, if he determines it is vital to protect the security of the United States to do so.

    However, if the President decides to waive the prohibition, he must issue a report to Congress within 30 days on the failure rate of the cluster munitions used and the steps taken to protect innocent civilians.

    Cluster munitions are large bombs, rockets, or artillery shells that contain up to hundreds of small submunitions, or individual ``bomblets.'' They are intended for attacking enemy troop and armor formations spread over a half mile radius.

    But, in reality, they pose a deadly threat to innocent civilians.

    In Afghanistan, between October 2001 and November 2002, 127 civilians lost their lives due to cluster munitions, 70 percent of them under the age of 18.

    An estimated 1,220 Kuwaitis and 400 Iraqi civilians have been killed by cluster munitions since 1991.

    During the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israeli cluster munitions, many of them manufactured in the U.S., injured and killed 343 civilians.

    Sadly, Syria is just the latest example.

    According to Human Rights Watch, the Syrian military has used air- dropped and ground-based cluster munitions near or in civilian areas.

    In October, residents of Taftanaz and Tamane reported that helicopters dropped cluster munitions on or near their towns. One resident told Human Rights Watch: On October 9, I heard a big explosion followed by several smaller ones coming from Shelakh field located at the north of Taftanaz. We went to see what happened. We saw a big [bomb] cut in half and several [bomblets] that were not detonated. I personally found one that was not exploded. There were small holes in the ground. The holes were dispersed and spread over 300 meters.

    Another resident reported that an air-dropped cluster munitions released bomblets that landed between two neighboring schools.

    Last month, Human Rights Watch issued another report that Syrian forces used ``notoriously indiscriminate'' ground-based cluster munitions near Idlib and Latamenh, a town near Hama.

    Not surprisingly, the residents of these towns also reported that many of the bomblets were dispersed over a wide area, failed to explode, and killed or maimed innocent civilians.

    One resident of Latamneh told Human Rights Watch: I heard a big explosion followed by smaller ones. . . . I saw wounded people everywhere and small bombs covering the streets. The damage caused to the buildings was minimal. I saw a lot of unexploded bomblets.

    One civilian was killed during the attack and 15 more, including women and children, were wounded. Another civilian was later killed by an unexploded bomblet. One video shows a baby with shrapnel along his right arm.

    Videos taken after the incident also show that the civilians who came across the munitions were unaware of the deadly power of an unexploded bomblet.

    Men, and even children, can be seen handling these weapons as if they were toys or simply souvenirs from the war.

    Now, the United States has rightly condemned the Syrian military's use of cluster munitions against innocent civilians.

    However, our moral leadership is hampered by the fact that we continue to maintain such a large arsenal of these deadly weapons and our continued resistance to international efforts to restrict their use.

    In fact, the United States maintains an estimated 5.5 million cluster munitions containing 728 million submunitions. These bomblets have an estimated failure rate of between 5 and 15 percent.

    According to the most recent data, only 30,900 of these 728 million submunitions have self-destruct devices that would ensure a less than one percent failure rate.

    That accounts for only 0.00004 percent of the U.S. arsenal.

    So, the technology exists for the U.S. to meet the one percent standard, but our arsenal still overwhelmingly consists of cluster bombs with high failure rates.

    How then, do we convince Syria not to use these deadly weapons? While we wait, the international community has taken action.

    On August 1, 2010, the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions--which would prohibit the production, use, and export of cluster munitions and requires signatories to eliminate their arsenals within eight years-- formally came into force. To date, it has been signed by 111 countries and ratified by 77 countries.

    This group includes key NATO allies such as Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, who are fighting alongside our troops in Afghanistan.

    It includes 33 countries that have produced or used cluster bombs.

    But it does not include the United States.

    The United States chose not to participate in the Oslo process or sign the treaty.

    This is unacceptable.

    Instead, the Pentagon continues to assert that cluster munitions are ``legitimate weapons with clear military utility in combat.'' Recognizing that the United States could not remain silent in the face of widespread international efforts to restrict the use of cluster munitions, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued a new policy on cluster munitions in June, 2008 stating that, after 2018, the use, sale, and transfer of cluster munitions with a failure rate of more than 1 percent would be prohibited.

    This policy is a step in the right direction, but would still allow the Pentagon to use cluster bombs with high failure rates for five more years.

    That runs counter to our values. I believe the administration should take another look at this policy.

    In fact, on September 29, 2009, Senator Leahy and I were joined by 14 of our colleagues in sending a letter to President Obama urging him to conduct a thorough review of U.S. policy on cluster munitions.

    On April 14, 2010, we received a response from then National Security Advisor Jim Jones stating that the administration will undertake this review following the policy review on U.S. landmines policy.

    The administration should complete this review without delay.

    Until then, we are still prepared to use these weapons with well- known failure rates and significant risks to innocent civilians? What does that say about us? The fact is, cluster munition technologies already exist that meet the one percent standard. Why do we need to wait until 2018? This delay is especially troubling given that in 2001, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen issued his own [[Page S1027]] policy on cluster munitions stating that, beginning in fiscal year 2005, all new cluster munitions must have a failure rate of less than one percent.

    Unfortunately, the Pentagon was unable to meet this deadline and Secretary Gates' policy essentially postpones any meaningful action until 2018.

    If we do nothing, close to twenty years will have passed since the Pentagon first recognized the threat these deadly weapons pose to innocent civilians.

    We can do better.

    First, it should be noted that in 2007, Congress passed, and President Bush signed into law, the FY 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which included a provision that prohibits the sale and transfer of cluster bombs with a failure rate of more than one percent.

    That ban has been renewed on an annual basis and remains on the books.

    Our legislation simply moves up the Gates policy by five years and extends the ban on the sale and transfer of cluster munitions with high failure rates to our own arsenal.

    For those of my colleagues who are concerned that it may be too soon to enact a ban on the use of cluster munitions with failure rates of more than 1 percent, I point out again that our bill allows the President to waive this restriction if he determines it is vital to protect the security of the United States to do so.

    I would also remind my colleagues that the United States has not used cluster munitions in Iraq since 2003 and has observed a moratorium on their use in Afghanistan since 2002.

    In conclusion, let me say that Senator Leahy and I remain as committed as ever to raising awareness about the threat posed by cluster munitions and to pushing the United States to enact common- sense measures to protect innocent civilians. This body constantly talks about America's moral leadership, and this is the perfect opportunity to exercise it.

    Senator Leahy and I continue our efforts for people like Phongsavath Souliyalat.

    Last year, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Laos and met Phongsavath, a 19-year old Lao man who lost his eyesight and his hands to a bomblet just three years before.

    The bomblet that injured Phongsavath was dropped more than 30 years ago during the Vietnam War. It lay unexploded, a de facto landmine, until his 16th birthday.

    Sadly, he is not alone. The U.S. dropped 270 million bomblets over Laos, and 30 percent failed to explode.

    According to an article from the Los Angeles Times, civilians in one- third of Laos are threatened by unexploded ordinance, and only one percent of that area has been cleared.

    Since the Vietnam War, more than 20,000 people have been killed or injured by these deadly weapons. All of them were innocent civilians that the United States did not intend to target.

    After Phongsavath described the suffering of those who, like him, had been injured by unexploded bomblets, Secretary Clinton replied: ``We have to do more.'' I agree wholeheartedly. As a first step, Congress should pass the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2013. I urge my colleagues to support this important initiative.

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