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Public Statements

Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, today I am honored to join my esteemed colleagues, Representative Charles Boustany (R-LA) and Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in introducing the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2013. This bill will restrict the use and deployment of dangerous cluster munitions.

Cluster bombs are canisters designed to open in the air before making contact, dispersing between 200 and 400 small munitions that can saturate a radius of 250 yards. The bombs are intended for military use when attacking enemy troop formations, but are often used in or near populated areas. This is a problem because up to 40 percent of these bomblets fail to explode and become de facto landmines, posing a significant risk to civilians--particularly children--lasting years after a conflict ends.

The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act prevents any U.S. military funds from being used on cluster munitions with a failure rate of more than 1 percent, unless the rules of engagement specify that cluster munitions (1) will only be used against clearly defined military targets, and (2) will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.

The bill requires the president to report to Congress on the plan to clean up unexploded cluster munitions, and it includes a national security waiver allowing the president to waive the prohibition if he determines such a waiver is vital to national security.

Mr. Speaker, current law prohibits U.S. sales, exports and transfers of cluster munitions that have a failure rate exceeding 1 percent. The law also requires any sale, export or transfer agreement to include a requirement that the cluster munitions will be used only against military targets. Regrettably, the Pentagon insists that the U.S. should continue to have the ability to use millions of stockpiled cluster munitions that have estimated failure rates of 5 to 20 percent until 2018. This is simply not acceptable; we can do better.

I believe strongly that the United States should be an international leader in ending the terrible toll on civilian populations caused by the high failure rate of these weapons. Passage of this bill would establish in law the Pentagon's standard of a 99 percent functioning rate for all U.S. cluster munitions, and ensure that our deployment and use of these munitions adhere uniformly to this standard. We must do everything possible to spare innocent civilians intended for military targets. The current risk posed by cluster munitions is simply unacceptable.

In 2011, Handicap International studied the effects of cluster bombs in 24 countries and regions, including Afghanistan, Chechnya, Laos and Lebanon. Its report found civilians make up 98 percent of those killed or injured by cluster bombs, and 27 percent of the casualties were children.

The Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions--which has been signed by 111 countries and ratified by 77--prohibits the production, use and export of cluster munitions and requires signatories to eliminate their arsenals within eight years. While nearly all of our major military allies have joined this treaty, to date, the United States has not.
There will always be those who will argue against such a change in military policy and practice, who will say this can't be done. History argues otherwise. I am hopeful that we can make significant progress on this issue and pass this legislation during the 113th Congress.


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