I have yet to encounter a "surgical" weapon. A weapon exists to kill or damage living beings and material objects. "Surgical" is a questionable word, anyway, when applied to a weapon. It yokes scalpel and dagger. Both cut, but one cuts while performing medical service and the other cuts to harm or slay.
When you need a dagger, however, you really need a dagger. When you need a B-52, you really need a B-52. The "when" of course reflects either a threatened (defensive) or threatening (offensive) situation, though in our complex existence being threatened and being threatening are often simultaneous conditions.
Our complex existence, as well as the existence of violent sociopaths like Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, who turn automobile exhaust (Hitler), water diversion dams (Saddam against the Marsh Arabs) and civilian airliners (bin Laden) into weapons of mass murder, are certainly a few of the reasons I have yet to encounter an arms control treaty that works. I don't disparage good intentions by diplomats who want to diminish violence and minimize warfare's destructiveness, when the good intentions actually exist on the part of all parties.
The papacy may or may not have tried to ban the crossbow, but the Second Lateran Council (1139) certainly disparaged the "murderous art of crossbowmen" and prohibited their use against Christians. In 1936, Hitler agreed to prohibit unrestricted submarine warfare. In 1939, he unleashed the U-boats.
Which brings us to the cluster munitions treaty announced in Ireland on May 30. Hosannaed by "the international community" and hailed by anti-Americans, the treaty is another attempt to politically cleanse warfare.
Like every explosive weapon, a certain percentage of cluster-munition "bomblets" fail to explode and continue to kill after the war ends. This is the legitimate moral spine of the argument to ban the weapons: Innocents continue to die on old battlefields. The moral spine of the argument to keep them is made by the U.S. Department of Defense, which says these flexible, multi-purpose munitions protect American soldiers. Many pro-ban supporters don't have cluster munitions. Many pro-ban supporters don't like American soldiers, either.
The anti-Americanism exploited by many treaty advocates is both disgusting and sclerotic. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's May 31 report opens with "Negotiators of a landmark treaty banning cluster bombs predicted the pact will make it too politically painful for the United States ever to use the weapons again."
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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