World News

Firms Drop Support for Cluster Bombs, but ‘Global Problem is Much Worse’

Posted December 2, 2018 10:29 p.m. EST

GENEVA — Ten years after an international treaty banned cluster munitions, several financial institutions are slashing investment in companies that produce the weapon, according to a European organization that campaigns for a global ban.

The Netherlands-based group PAX said in a report released Monday that financial institutions it monitors had cut investment in companies that produce cluster munitions from $31 billion in 2017 to $8.7 billion in 2018 — a 72 percent decrease.

Michel Uiterwaal, a co-author of the report, called the downturn a “testament to the growing global awareness that support for this weapon is unacceptable.” But he also said that many companies not covered by the report were continuing to produce and invest in cluster munitions.

“The global problem is much worse than we describe,” Uiterwaal said, “because there are more producers and there’s more money involved.”

Cluster munitions include a wide array of bombs, rockets and artillery shells that scatter up to hundreds of smaller bomblets. Up to one-fifth of them do not detonate, leaving large expanses of land contaminated by bomblets that kill and maim civilians years after a conflict has ceased.

The stigma attached to cluster munitions rose sharply with an international campaign that led to a 2008 treaty banning production, stockpiling and transfer of the weapon. The United States vigorously opposed the treaty, but 120 countries, including most NATO members, have joined the accord.

The organization attributed the financial drop mostly to the decision by two major American arms manufacturers — Textron Inc. and Orbital ATK — to halt production of the weapon.

Uiterwaal said those decisions at least partly reflected pressure from financial institutions that are turning their backs on funding companies that produce cluster munitions.

The $8.7 billion of investment tracked by PAX went to seven companies: Avibras of Brazil, Bharat Dynamics in India, the Chinese companies China Aerospace Science and Industry and Norinco, and the South Korean companies Hanwha, LigNex1 and Poongsan.

That list of producers is not exhaustive and no information is available on financing available to many other arms manufacturers producing cluster munitions, Uiterwaal said.

Russia, China, India, Israel and South Korea are among states that have not joined the treaty, and the weapon has been heavily used in a number of active conflicts. United Nations investigations have reported Syrian and Russian forces using cluster munitions in the 7-year-old Syrian conflict.

Human rights groups have reported the use of American, British and Brazilian-made cluster munitions by Saudi Arabia and its allies in the war in Yemen and Egypt’s use of cluster bombs in the Sinai Peninsula.

The United States’ last known use of the weapon was in 2009. A directive issued by the George W. Bush administration the previous year said it would not use cluster bombs after 2018 unless they achieved a performance standard not met by existing stocks.

Last year, however, the Pentagon reversed that commitment, arguing that cluster munitions provided “an effective and necessary capability to engage area targets.”