Cluster Bombs

Cluster bombs have been in use since the Second World War, but have developed into formidable weapons through years of technical and tactical refinement.  But like other many other weapons, cluster bombs have additional deadly consequences for nearby civilian populations, sometimes long after the conflict has ended.  Now, ongoing talks in Ireland seek to ban the weapons because of the harm they can cause to noncombatants. 

The map above shows the relationships of countries around the world to cluster bombs.  Some countries produce the bombs, while others stockpile them or have used them in combat.  Other unfortunate countries have been on the recieving end of these weapons.  The interactive map allows users to sort the world map by countries that produce, use, stockpile, or have been affected by cluster bombs.    Click here or on the picture above to see the full map.

As a quick glance will show, nearly every major country in the world either produces or stockpiles these weapons.  The major military powers are major producers of the weapons, along with some countries in the developing world.  The bombs are stockpiled by nearly ever industrialized country on earth, from Peru to Finland to Mongolia.  But most of the countries affected by cluster bombs are in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, and Southeast Asia, where they have been used in civil and international conflicts such as the Angolan Civil War, the Iran-Iraq War, ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, and the Vietnam War.  Russia has used these weapons in its conflict with Chechen separatists.

When fired, these weapons separate into hundreds of tiny “bomblets” that each falls and explodes independently, creating the potential for large-scale destruction over a wide area.  This potential for destruction makes them desirable weapons for militaries around the world.  However, all the bomblets do not always explode on contact, and some remain on the ground still live and armed .  As with landmines, these unexploded bomblets can cause civilian casualties long after the warring parties have made peace.

The Economist produced this map as part of its coverage of a series of international talks that seek to ban the use of cluster bombs.    The talks have some high-level American supporters, as demonstrated by this article’s description:

“There is no doubt that cluster munitions have some military utility. You could say the same of land mines. I suppose you could say the same of poison gas. But we do ban some weapons,” said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has led American efforts to outlaw cluster munitions and provide support to their civilian victims.

“Weapons that are inherently indiscriminate, whether by design or effect, should have no place in the 21st century,” said Leahy, who in February led a successful push to ban U.S. exports of cluster bombs.

The current round of talks is occurring in Dublin, Ireland though the 30th of May.  Although over 100 countries have signed on to the attempt to ban cluster bombs, several leading military powers–Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and the United States–have not participated in the talks, suggesting that any treaty will have at best a limited effect.

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Cartographia is a blog about how we use maps to represent the world around us, and how people interpret maps today and throughout history. Please feel free to send any questions, comments, or recommendations directly to me at cartographia.blog@gmail.com.

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