In today’s New York Times, a story mentions the use of cluster bombs in Ukraine by both the Ukrainians and the invading Russians:
Cluster munitions — a class of weapon comprising rockets, bombs, missiles, mortar and artillery shells — split open midair and dispense smaller bomblets over a wide area. The hazard to civilians remains significant until any unexploded munitions have been located and properly disposed of by experts.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which took effect in 2010, bans their use because of the indiscriminate harm they can cause to civilians …
Once again we have the issue of a weapon banned because it can kill so many people. Or because it kills civilians instead of soldiers. And yet bombs, rockets, and missiles kill hundreds in every battle, thousands in every war. So do the resulting fires, loss of habitat, and starvation. Isn’t it ludicrous to declare some of those weapons worse than others, to ban some but not all, to declare some illegal to use and by omission signal that others are acceptable? How many people have to die for a weapon to be declared illegal? Is it an acceptable weapon if it kills only ten people at a time, but forbidden as soon as it kills eleven? Can it be declared illegal retroactively if a dozen people die later from their wounds?
Back in 2013, as the US contemplated an intervention in Syria, I wrote:
Is killing hundreds with chemicals really more heinous than killing thousands with guns or bombs? Are chemicals really any more a “weapon of mass destruction” than bombs and rockets?
The question remains. Barrel bombs full of chemicals, thermobaric bombs, cluster munitions, rockets, missiles, grenades — all kill multiple individuals. Why declare only some of them banned or illegal? Why not all? What difference does it make to someone that their loved one was killed by a cluster bomb instead of a rocket or a grenade?
And why the designation “war crime”? Isn’t any war of aggression a crime? Why single out only parts of that war as criminal? Why is it okay to shoot someone but criminal to kill them with a barrel or cluster bomb?
All these declarations of war crimes and banned weapons strike me as just talk from those on the sidelines, onlookers not in the line of fire who, safe in their ivory towers, still want to appear thoughtful, relevant, and oh so concerned — who still want to “do something.”
Talk is cheap. So very, very cheap.
Banner photo: Ukrainian Armed Forces