Saudi Arabia (GPA) – One of the West’s key allies in the Middle East has admitted to what it calls “limited use” of UK-manufactured cluster bombs in Yemen. These types of munitions are banned under international law.
When a cluster bomb explodes, it releases several smaller projectiles which allows the damage to spread to a larger area– potentially putting civilian lives at risk. These sub-munitions can also essentially become landmines. Cluster bombs were banned under international law in 2010– a treaty Britain signed upon its creation in 2008. However, Saudi Arabia and most of their coalition partners– including the United States– have not signed this same treaty.
The UK claims the cluster bombs in question were manufactured in the 80’s and distributed to Saudi Arabia in 1989. “The coalition confirmed earlier today that a limited number of BL-755 cluster munitions exported from the United Kingdom in the 1980’s were dropped in Yemen, including in the incident alleged by Amnesty International not far from the Saudi border by a coalition aircraft,” Michael Fallon said.
Prior to this revelation in November, Saudi Arabia’s U.S. ambassador brushed-off a question from the Intercept concerning their use of cluster bombs in Yemen:
“Will you continue to use cluster weapons in Yemen?” we asked Prince Abdullah Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. “This is like the question, ‘Will you stop beating your wife?’” Al-Saud responded, letting loose a bellowing laugh. We continued to ask with the same question, and the ambassador grew tired of our persistence. “You are political operators!” he accused. “I’m not a politician.”
The U.K. and the U.S. are two of the Saudi Kingdom’s largest arms suppliers– there is no way to know for sure when the last batch of U.K.- manufactured cluster bombs were transferred to Saudi Arabia or how many they still have in their possession. The last cluster bomb manufacturer in the United States– Textron– announced in September that they would stop producing the munitions due to “dwindling demand.” Despite halting production of completed cluster bombs, it is unclear if other companies will stop producing the sub-munitions which go into the cluster bombs.
It has been estimated that the United States had about 135,000 tons of cluster munitions stockpiled in 2015. The United States has used cluster bombs themselves in nearly every conflict since the Korean War.