Reversing Course, DoD Will Retain Cluster Munitions

12.18.17 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Department of Defense last month abandoned a 2008 policy that would have reduced the U.S. inventory of cluster munitions and imposed strict new safety and quality control standards on these anti-personnel weapons, which have been implicated in numerous civilian fatalities.

“We must not lose our qualitative and quantitative competitive advantage against potential adversaries that seek operational and tactical advantages against the United States and its allies and partners,” wrote Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan in a November 30, 2017 memo establishing the new policy. Therefore, “the Department will retain cluster munitions currently in active inventories until the capabilities they provide are replaced with enhanced and more reliable munitions.”

The new DoD policy “essentially reversed the 2008 policy,” according to a newly updated review from the Congressional Research Service.

Where the previous policy issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2008 had “established an unwaiverable requirement that cluster munitions used after 2018 must leave less than 1% of unexploded submunitions on the battlefield,” that requirement is no longer operative and no new deadline for reducing associated risks has been set.

“Cluster munitions have been highly criticized internationally for causing a significant number of civilian deaths, and efforts have been undertaken to ban and regulate their use,” CRS wrote.

Furthermore, cluster munitions today may be an anachronism, the CRS report said. “Given current and predicted future precision weaponry trends, cluster munitions might be losing their military relevance–much as chemical weapons did between World War I and World War II.” See Cluster Munitions: Background and Issues for Congress, December 13, 2017.

Other new and updated publications from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Plant and Plutonium Disposition: Management and Policy Issues, updated December 14, 2017

Defense Spending Under an Interim Continuing Resolution: In Brief, updated December 15, 2017

Federal Procurement Law & Natural Disasters, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 14, 2017

The Net Neutrality Debate: Access to Broadband Networks, updated December 14, 2017

The Purple Heart: Background and Issues for Congress, updated December 15, 2017