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Still Deadly: World War II Bombs, Modern Cluster Bombs, Landmines and Small Arms

When a war ends, the killing continues. "More than six decades after the end of World War II, Germans still routinely come across unexploded bombs lurking beneath farmer's fields or city streets." writes Mark Landler in the International Herald Tribune (Hat Tip: Clarence):
Lately, there has been a skein of such dangerous discoveries here, one with deadly consequences.  On Monday [October 24, 2006], a highway worker was killed when his cutting machine struck a World War II bomb beneath a main autobahn southeast of Frankfurt, setting off an explosion that ripped apart the vehicle and wrecked several passing cars, injuring their occupants. Hours later, a weapons-removal squad defused a 225-kilogram, or 500- pound, bomb found next to a highway near Hannover. The police said the device was a British aerial bomb - one of tens of thousands dropped on German roads, factories, and cities during Allied bombing raids. 
Last week, 22,000 people were evacuated from a district of Hannover after three bombs were discovered near a house. It was the second-largest evacuation for a disposal operation since the end of the war.
Construction workers in Berlin come across such bombs very often as well: Surrounding areas get evacuated and the bomb squads diffuse the bombs. There are hardly ever any casualties. People in other former war zones around the world are not as lucky, but get killed, lose arms or legs or suffer from other serious injuries due to unexploded cluster bombs or landmines. The Scotsman trusts a Reuters report that claims:
Between August 14 and October 8, around 20 people were killed in southern Lebanon by cluster munitions. Land mine activists said last month that cluster bombs are still killing or injuring three to four civilians a day, a third of them children. (...) Cluster bombs burst into bomblets and spread out near the ground. While some aim to destroy tanks, others are designed to kill or maim humans over a wide area. Experts have estimated an unusually high 40 percent of the bomblets dropped on Lebanon failed to explode on impact. Around 115 people have been injured by bomblets since the war's end.
Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of Los Angeles' Jewish Journal criticizes the "Cluster Silence." The Christian Science Monitor published a call to abolish cluster bombs by Amnesty International USA.
Excerpt about the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah:
Cluster munitions are not banned weapons, but their use in civilian areas violates the international ban on the use of indiscriminate weapons. According to the UN, 90 percent of the cluster bombs were dropped in the last 72 hours of the war - when all parties knew a cease-fire was imminent. Reports last week that Hizbullah fired cluster bombs at civilian areas in northern Israel suggests these weapons are spreading to nonstate armed groups, further multiplying the danger they pose.
After initially denying that it used cluster bombs, Israel later said that all weapons they use are legal. But the military purpose of their use in these circumstances is inexplicable. Although Israel has provided some maps of the affected areas, the UN says it has still not provided specific coordinates that would expedite clearing. (An Israeli official told the German newspaper Der Spiegel that granting the request could jeopardize Israeli intelligence about Hizbullah.)
The US State Department's Office of Defense Trade Controls is investigating the use of American-made cluster munitions in southern Lebanon, apparently to determine whether their use violates the terms in the (secret) agreements for their use. A congressional investigation into the munitions' use after Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon pressured the Reagan administration to ban sales of cluster weapons to Israel for six years. Last month, Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Dianne Feinstein of California submitted an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill designed to prevent cluster-bomb use in or near populated areas. It failed.
The German Green Party and the Liberal Democrats (FDP) and many NGOs campaigned for a total ban on the use, production and export of cluster munition, but on September 28, 2006, the majority of the members of parliament voted for a more limited ban, criticizes the Landmine NGO (in German). However the German Defense Department decided already in June 2006 that the Bundeswehr will not buy any more cluster munitions and that the Air Force will give up the option to use cluster bombs, when the Tornado is decommissioned, while the Army gives up certain types of cluster munitions already now. More in the Defense Department's 8 Point Paper (HT: B.L.O.G.). Forein Minister Steinmeier promised on Oktober 19, 2006 to work for an international ban on cluster bombs. (All three links in German.)

Unexploded cluster bombs are pose a threat to civilians similar to landmines. Since 1995 the Actiongroup (English website), calls for a ban on all landmines and weapons with mine-like effects such as cluster bombs and cluster munitions and they list landmine technology producing companies from Germany.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Price, writes about the global problem of landmines:
It is estimated that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 new casualties caused by landmines and unexploded ordnance each year. That means there are some 1,500 new casualties each month, more than 40 new casualties a day, at least two new casualties per hour.
Most of the casualties are civilians and most live in countries that are now at peace.
Many Americans (and Germans) are very critical of the United Nations, see our post Majority of Americans: Reform or Replace the United Nations. While the UN shortcomings are well known, the work of many UN agencies in the field is quite underreported, for example the landmine work by United Nations Children's Fund:
At present UNICEF is undertaking mine action in 30 mine affected countries world-wide, coordinating a variety of programmes focused on Mine Risk Education, advocacy and survivor assistance.  These countries and regions: Afghanistan, Albania, Angola,  Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Cambodia, Chad, Colombia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Laos, Lebanon, Mauritania, Nicaragua, North Caucasus (Ingushetia/Chechnya), Occupied Palestinian Territories, Panama, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Golan Heights (Syria) and Vietnam.

Arms Exports to Developing Countries:

In 2005, Russia and France have sold more weapons to the developing world than the United States, writes the NY Times on October 29, 2006:

Russia surpassed the United States in 2005 as the leader in weapons deals with the developing world, and its new agreements included selling $700 million in surface-to-air missiles to Iran and eight new aerial refueling tankers to China, according to a new Congressional study. Those weapons deals were part of the highly competitive global arms bazaar in the developing world that grew to $30.2 billion in 2005, up from $26.4 billion in 2004. It is a market that the United States has regularly dominated.
Russia’s agreements with Iran are not the biggest part of its total sales — India and China are its principal buyers. But the sales to improve Iran’s air-defense system are particularly troubling to the United States because they would complicate the task of Pentagon planners should the president order airstrikes on Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities. (...)
The report, entitled “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations,” found that Russia’s arms agreements with the developing world totaled $7 billion in 2005, an increase from its $5.4 billion in sales in 2004. That figure surpassed the United States’ annual sales agreements to the developing world for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. France ranked second in arms transfer agreements to developing nations, with $6.3 billion, and the United States was third, with $6.2 billion.
Quote from the above mentioned Congressional Research Service report Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations (pdf, p. 13):
The four major West European suppliers (France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy), as a group, registered a significant increase in their collective share of all arms transfer agreements with developing nations between 2004 and 2005. This group’s share rose from 22.3% in 2004 to 34.1% in 2005. The collective value of this group’s arms transfer agreements with developing nations in 2005 was $10.3 billion compared with a total of about $5.9 billion in 2004. Of these four nations, France was the leading supplier with $6.3 billion in agreements in 2005, a substantial increase from $1 billion in agreements in 2004. A portion of France’s total in 2005 was attributable to a $3.5 billion agreement with India for 6 Scorpene diesel attack submarines. The United Kingdom registered $2.8 billion in arms agreements in 2005, a significant portion reflects orders placed under the Al Yamamah military procurement arrangement with Saudi Arabia. Germany registered $700 million in arms agreements in 2005 based on a number of smaller contracts for a variety of naval and ground forces equipment, increasing its agreements’ total notably from $100 million in 2004. Italy registered $500 million in arms transfer agreements in 2005, based primarily on sales of helicopters to several established clients.
Interesting to note is also the table on page 26, which shows worldwide arms transfer agreements between 2002-2005 and the suppliers' share with developing countries (in millions of constant 2005 U.S. dollars):
The United States sold arms for $ 56 billion, and 60% went to developing countries.
Russia: $ 24 billion and 96% went to developing countries.
France: $ 14 billion and 65% went to developing countries.
United Kingdom: $ 10 billion and 73% went to developing countries.
Germany: $ 6 billion and 16% went to developing countries.
China: $4 billion and 100% went to developing countries.
Italy: $ 3 billion and 48% went to developing countries.
All Other European countries: $ 20 billion and 44% went to developing countries.
All Others: $ 9 billion and 68% went to developing countries.
Thus Germany sold the least arms to developing countries between 2002-2005.

SuperFrenchie thinks that the huge arms exports indicate France's influence on the international stage and justify the permanent seat at the UN Security Council with veto power. I disagree.
Besides, it is hardly ever morally justified to sell arms to developing countries, who should rather spend their money on education, public health, improving state institutions, fighting corruptions etc:

According to Arms Without Borders, a recent report written by a campaign group that includes Oxfam and Amnesty International:
Global military spending is estimated to exceed $1 trillion this year - roughly 15 times annual international aid expenditure.
There are enough bullets in the world to shoot all 6 billion of us twice.
On average, up to 1,000 people die every day as a direct result of armed violence.
Military spending is expected to overtake peak Cold War levels by the end of 2006.
Between them, countries in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa spent an estimated $22.5 billion on arms during 2004. This sum would have enabled those countries to put every child in school and reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 - two of the Millennium Development Goals.
Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan spent more on their military than on healthcare between 2002-03.
The United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany accounted for an estimated 82 per cent of all major conventional arms transfers in 2005.

Small Arms are "slow motion weapons of mass destruction" and pointed against the exporting nations as well:
William D. Hartung, a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School and the director of the Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center, criticizes in
While the U.S. hangs its foreign policy on preventing the spread of "weapons of mass destruction" (a worthy goal, however grossly the Bush administration goes about achieving it), it continues to ignore a more immediate threat—the proliferation of small arms and light weapons—that deserves serious attention as well. These low-tech arms have been described as "slow motion weapons of mass destruction," because they are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths over the past dozen years, from the genocide in Rwanda to the ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yet yesterday [October 26, 2006], the United States, the world's largest supplier of small arms, was the only country to vote against an historic United Nations proposal to curb traffic in arms.
The United Nations vote was the culmination of the work of a network of prominent individuals and diverse non-governmental organizations. They set out to address the problem of small arms and light weapons—as well as larger systems like tanks, fighter planes and attack helicopters—by putting forward a proposal for an Arms Trade Treaty. The thrust of the proposed treaty is to curb arms transfers to major human rights abusers and areas of conflict. It would also urge weapons suppliers to limit weapons sales that are likely to undermine development in poor nations. (...) As a first step—by a vote of 139 to 1 with 24 abstentions—the U.N. General Assembly agreed yesterday to create a two-part process aimed at pursuing such a treaty. The United States was the only vote in opposition to the resolution. (...) 
U.S. security has suffered more harm than good from the widespread availability of small arms and light weapons, which often end up being used against U.S. troops. A recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University has found that over half of U.S. casualties in Iraq have been inflicted by AK-47s. In fact, American-made weapons also frequently end up pointing at American soldiers. For example, the early foundations of al-Qaida were built in part on relationships and weaponry that came from the billions of dollars in U.S. support for the Afghan mujahadin during the war to expel Soviet forces from that country. U.S. military personnel in Somalia and Panama faced U.S.-supplied weaponry that had been given to those nations when they were U.S. allies. In Panama, the issue at hand was a change in Panamanian and U.S. government policies. In Somalia, warlords got hold of U.S.-origin weapons in the wake of the overthrow of the Siad Barre dictatorship. These patterns are likely to continue if nothing is done to stem the wholesale trade in weapons. (...)
So, the question remains, why is the United States opposed to taking measures to stop this deadly trade? The first answer is strategic. The executive branch wants to preserve its “freedom of action” to arm U.S.-allied groups like the Nicaraguan contras, the Afghan mujahadin, Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA movement in Angola, the Iraqi National Congress and groups opposed to the current regime in Iran. Even if one accepts the right of the United States to attempt to overthrow governments that oppose its short-term political or economic imperatives—which this author does not—the short-term “benefits” of these arms-supply relationships are inevitably outweighed by the long-term costs to U.S. and global interests. Unfortunately, short-sighted policymakers in Washington—of both parties—have failed to understand or accept this fundamental principle. 
As the world’s number one arms exporting nation, the United States has a special responsibility to take the lead in regulating the trade. A 2005 report  by the World Policy Institute found that of the largest U.S. arms recipients in the developing world, over 70 percent were undemocratic regimes, major human rights abusers or both. The United States is not alone in the business of unsavory arms exports. A recent report by the research group Saferworld found that in the past year, the United Kingdom provided weapons to 19 of 20 nations that had been singled out by its own government as “major countries of concern” for human rights abuses. And the Control Arms Campaign has found Russian, Greek, Chinese and U.S.-origin bullets in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is engaged in one of the deadliest civil wars in living memory. 
A second factor in U.S. opposition to any substantial measures to curb the weapons trade is the role of the domestic gun lobby. Both the National Rifle Association and its allied organization, the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities, have gone on record against an Arms Trade Treaty. National Rifle Association propaganda has made the false claim that a treaty would lead to the confiscation of guns owned by U.S. citizens.

Conclusion: World War II bombs as well as modern day cluster bombs and landmines remain deadly and kill innocent people long after the war is over. Likewise, small arms that were sold decades ago to advance Western interests (like winning the cold war) are today used against Western interests. These are the deadly long term effects of weapons that should be considered in future policy decisions.


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Olaf Petersen on :

It is ignored since day one that air strikes against civilians and civil infrastructure don't motivate the victims against their leaders. It is just terror. Hitler, Saddam and Bin Laden weren't killed by bombs. Clusterbombs and landmines should be banned like chemical weapons because they contaminate the environment. And no doubt, bombs like BLU 82 (Daisy Cutter) or MOAB are weapons of mass destruction, *anti-personnel and intimidation weapons*. Though conventional by category their large lethal radius of ~900 feet qualifies them clearly. And it is more than clear that in future successful military operations will be fast, small scale and embedded in a highly efficient intelligence network. Facing a hostile nuclear power demands doctrines rather like 'flexible response' than 'massive retaliation'. Asymmetric (and unrestricted) warfare may cause feelings of revenge but they don't justify the use of weapons like the Daisy Cutter. Not because they couldn't kill Bin Laden but because their whole history is nothing but a long list of failures - and 'collateral damages'. We will win the war against terrorism through politics, through stability and, most of all, through our reputation. In this sense Germany is on the right track, historically and morally. It's rather nation-building than fighting terror, but - those with ears will hear - why not encounter asymmetric warfare with asymmetric peace? +++nation-building in afghanistan a failure due to pashto insurgency+++mullah omar is back+++get the boys out there and let putin do the politics the chinese won't and the usa don't+++harhar+++don't assume beijing has forgotten the bombing of its embassy in belgrad+++nor that moscow has no accounts to settle with the usa+++nor that afghanistan will be a nato enclave in central asia in the long run+++never+++high times for diplomats+++high noon for pakistan+++eom

Olaf Petersen on :

+++and afghanistan won't be a nato [i]exklave[/i] in central asia either+++in case you live in australia+++ =D

Don S on :

I think a call to eliminate all advanced munitions would be a positive step against the *true* terrorists. The governments of the US and Israel of course. That way US troops can face up to the North Koreans across the DMZ without benefit of land mine barriers or any barriers whatsoever. 30,000 agaisnt 1 million - hand to armor. It's only fair....

joe on :

Why are bombs being found in Germany?

Zyme on :

Oh my goodness - this sounds as if weapons and sale of weapons are a new phenomenon.. It is a part of trade since mankind exists. By selling weapons a country and arming companies can invest the income into new research. So to prevent other industrial countries from gaining that benefit, each industrial country competes with each other at those export markets. As regards selling weapons into conflict zones? Well they usually pay the highest price as they have the greatest need. A basic rule of economy.. Cluster bombs and landmines are a problem though, I admit - as they spoil the development of entire regions after the conflict is over. But there is actually an easy way of keeping the military benefits and preventing the civil disadvantages of cluster bombs: I recall an article about german artillery describing ammunition that rains dozens of explosive particles, which exlode according to a timer / remote control. This way, the explosives don´t remain a danger after the conflict is over.

Anonymous on :

"It is a part of trade since mankind exists." Yes, but wars result in an ever increasing number of civilian deaths. 200 years ago wars resulted in much less deaths, and the percentage of civilians getting killed in a war was much lower. "I recall an article about german artillery describing ammunition that rains dozens of explosive particles, which exlode according to a timer / remote control." Sounds great, if the timer works fine.

Zyme on :

"Yes, but wars result in an ever increasing number of civilian deaths. 200 years ago wars resulted in much less deaths, and the percentage of civilians getting killed in a war was much lower." I doubt that for a particular reason: I agree that less civilians were killed BY direct fire as there was a lack of indirect weapons with a hughe blast radius. But since mankind is around, civilians were killed indirectly by wars in other ways. It was a usual practice in the ancient world to strew salt upon the farming fields of hated hostile regions to prevent the growth of any kind of food for almost a decade. It is quite easy to guess were this leads to - civil casualties. Or have you ever heard from the lesson the romans learned when fighting the german tribes? When they invaded the kingdom of dakia in the second century (roughly the territory of rumania today), they made sure that they won´t be surprised by them anymore afterwards - they wiped out their entire culture by killing every citizen of dakia. It might be the first genocide in human history. So don´t tell me that many civilian deaths are a new phenomenon :)

Anonymous on :

"I agree that less civilians were killed BY direct fire" That was my point. Politicians, generals, and the defense industry bragg about their smart hi-tech weapons and surgical strikes, but the fact is that still many many civilians get killed during the war and after the war, because the weapons are not so good. Many cluster bombs don't explode etc.

Sjaak on :

There are 250 people in the Netherlands alone whose sole job is finding and cataloging WW2 bombs and munition on land. This doesn't even take into account the numerous people who dispose them and the people who work on identifying and disabling all the seamines. 60 years after the war it's still a big industry.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Wow! That is a lot. Does this have an influence on Dutch opinions towards Germany and towards warfare today?

Sjaak on :

Not really. Most of those bombs come from allied planes that for one reason or another had to dispose their bombs over the Netherlands in order to get back home safely. Most of the places where the Germans left behind grenades and stuff are now military terrain. And the only time you hear something about the seamines is when a fishingboat catches one. They are detonated by the navy on sea, far away from the public eye.

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