Pallets of 155 mm artillery shells containing "HD" mustard gas at Pueblo chemical weapons storage facility in Colorado, 2009.
U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity

The speaker is a retired colonel in the American army. He has seen three wars at close hand and still limps as the result of an encounter with a German land mine. When he talks about antipersonnel weapons, and about fighting a war in which civilians may be in the line of fire, he can still do so with complete authority and without reservations: "I'd just as soon see a dozen civilians go before one soldier."

The field commander's concern on behalf of his men-a concern shared in armies throughout history-has been transformed into a particularly cruel reality by the nature of modern war. In the Vietnam War, it has been estimated by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Refugees and Escapees that as many as 425,000 civilians lost their lives in South Vietnam alone between 1965 and 1973. Other wars have seen as great a proportionate toll on civilians, but largely because of hardship and deprivation or individual acts of massive destruction. While the final grim bombing of Hanoi reminds us that the Vietnam War was not free of such events, the great bulk of civilian casualties came in the day-to-day conduct of a war from which they could not escape.

No side had a monopoly on generating such massive human suffering. The Vietcong and North Vietnamese certainly were not lacking in the will or ingenuity to cause pain. But they were no match for the Americans in terms of the hardware to do it.

One particular kind of hardware employed in Vietnam is now receiving increasing attention, as it will play an even more important role in future police actions and wars, both conventional and guerrilla. "Area weapons" are so named because of their dispersion characteristics. By virtue of the enormous territory they can cover, such weapons present a strong potential danger to noncombatants. An additional element of controversy stems from their classification as "antipersonnel weapons"-munitions that are effective primarily or solely against human beings.

Both in design and in its practical deployment, the most indiscriminate antipersonnel weapon used in the Vietnam War was almost certainly the so-called Cluster Bomb Unit (CBU). The CBU story is worth looking into, because it shows the way weapons move from research and development to deployment and use-and how the bureaucratic world of memoranda and deference relates to the world of fire and iron on the battlefield. Moreover, the story can lead as well as any to the basic questions-whether any form of international control of such weapons is possible and whether there are procedures by which the United States, even acting alone, might take proper account of the political and humanitarian considerations that surround this type of weapon.1


In a cluster bomb unit, hundreds of bomblets, each slightly larger than a baseball, are lodged within a hollow dispenser. Dropped from fighter or bomber aircraft, the dispenser splits apart, releasing its contents. The small bomblets, known as bomb live units (BLUs), are grooved in such a way as to fragment before, during or after impact, depending on the fuse employed; in addition, the casing itself is designed to fragment into small particles. Upon detonation, each dispenser can blanket an oval, linear or figure-eight patterned area on the ground. The shower of fragmentation can be effective against light military targets, but for the most part the CBU is effective only against human beings. Because of the high velocity of the fragments and the uniformity of their dispersion, it is a virtual certainty that any person located within the pattern area will be killed or wounded.

The use of fragmentation to cripple an enemy is not a new concept. The hand grenade is perhaps the simplest example of the principle at work. Even conventional blast bombs employ the fragmentation principle to a limited extent. But the ability to control a fragmentation pattern and to disperse it over a wide area for tactical uses is strictly an outgrowth of the war in Indochina.

Munitions designers developed fragmentation bombs during World War II, but the results showed more promise than sophistication. The major development in fragmentation during the Korean War was the Claymore mine. Later versions which projected steel balls rather than a fragmented metal plate were used in Vietnam. The real breakthrough in controlled fragmentation, however, happened after the Korean War ended. Working at the Development Center at China Lake, California, and at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, the Navy and the Air Force designed a bomb live unit with fragmentation characteristics far superior to anything previously used by U.S. armed forces. Later versions of this BLU, nicknamed "pineapples" by the North Vietnamese, were the first to be used in the theater. But the overall weapons system, designated the CBU-2 series, still had kinks. Pilots had to fly low and level to make the system work; otherwise, bomblets would not eject from the dispenser. CBU-2s were in the inventory before a single plane sortied over Vietnam. Limited numbers were deployed on aircraft carriers off the coast of Vietnam, and some were no doubt used in combat. But there was no ground swell of support for their use, primarily because of the low and level tactic required to deliver them.

Sometime prior to 1963, work began within the Air Force research and development (R-and-D) shop at Eglin to modify the dispensing system. Field reports called for a dive-release mechanism so that CBUs could be dropped in a way that did not invite antiaircraft fire. Eventually, this work produced so-called second generation CBUs-the CBU-20 series-which not only included the dive-release mechanism, but also delivered far more destructive bomblets.

CBU-24s-their bomblets nicknamed "guavas" by the North Vietnamese-were the most widely used cluster bombs of the war. They contained far more fragments than any previous weapon of this kind and, above all, were able to cover a much wider area. The exact range of destruction of the CBU-24 remains a classified military secret not publicly disclosed by the Pentagon. However, a Japanese team of experts traveling in North Vietnam and observing the effects has estimated that a single CBU dropped in a linear pattern and detonated at an altitude of 600 feet was able to disperse its fragments so as to kill or wound people at an effective range of 300 meters by 1,000 meters.2 A report by the International Committee of the Red Cross places the correct figure at 300 by 900 meters.3 A Swedish team of experts agrees with the Red Cross figures, estimating further that a single fighter aircraft carrying CBUs could cover an area anywhere from one to 15 square kilometers.4 While these figures are generally halved by American experts (noting the possible bias of the sources), the area coverage remains extraordinary, bearing in mind that the ordnance package for a single F4 Phantom can include eight CBUs or, with special racks, as many as 15 to 20.

Operational tests in April 1966 proved beyond a shadow of a doubt the flak suppression possibilities of the new weapon. Soviet antiaircraft units used by the North Vietnamese were only about ten to 12 feet across, an extremely difficult target to knock out even though only a small amount of damage could render them inoperative. CBUs, by literally pockmarking an entire area, could either knock out the antiaircraft weapon or prevent it from firing, thus providing the maximum amount of cover for U.S. aircraft, surpassing even napalm in effectiveness. It did not take a great deal of imagination to envision other tactical uses for CBUs unrelated to flak suppression.

Almost overnight, the new CBUs became the compleat weapon for area denial. Vice Admiral Lloyd M. Mustin, in his capacity as Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, became involved. "Once we tested them," he said in an interview, "the immediate question became 'How many can we make?' " In the light of the immediate favorable military judgment, the decision to deploy followed rapidly, and by the summer of 1966 the new CBUs were in use against targets in North Vietnam.

Thus, the debate on deployment and use was not prolonged. The participants agree that most of it took place in military circles, and that the principal question was whether the extraordinary military usefulness of the new weapon outweighed the risk of the revelation of its nature to enemies present and future. For the weapon did embody significant advances; the technology of controlled fragmentation had advanced to such a degree that the CBU-20 series represented one of the infrequent advances below the nuclear threshold acceptable for use on the battlefield. "We thought," said a current high-ranking military officer, "these weapons could give us a quantum leap on the enemy, but not break the unwritten rules."

Some Pentagon officials were reluctant to show an ace card-which could then be duplicated by the Soviets and Chinese. It appears that this question arose again and again, as successive advances further refined the CBU design. Some models, indeed, were never deployed, and retain today their status as "classified munitions"-to be kept under wraps in order to shield their production techniques or their battlefield applications.

However, the CBU-24 was apparently never designated as a classified munition, and the debate on protecting its techniques was quickly resolved. The problem of flak suppression was becoming progressively more acute as the weight of bombing in the North was steadily stepped up throughout 1966; and the CBU-24 would presumably complicate the enemy's task of rebuilding lines of communication and strike a blow at his morale. Potential enemies, it was argued, would develop CBUs soon enough, if they did not already possess them.

By not designating the CBU-24 as classified its proponents sidestepped a number of questions. To have done so would almost automatically have brought in a wider array of civilians and compelled some discussion of the political consequences of deploying a weapon that was not only far more effective than any previous one, but also far more likely to cause civilian casualties. It appears that in this and other respects the military promoters of the weapon went to considerable lengths not to raise the broader questions.

Here it is also relevant to note (and several participants do so) that the decision to use the CBU-24 followed a drawn-out bureaucratic debate over the use of another flak suppression weapon-napalm. When air operations began over Southeast Asia, and especially after U.S. forces became directly engaged (in mid-1964 in Laos, and then over North Vietnam in early 1965), the Joint Chiefs argued strongly that napalm should be authorized for substantial use-on the ground that it had become an accepted conventional instrument of war, and that it would be highly effective. Civilians in the Defense and State Departments, under the leadership of Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton, countered not by arguing the inhumanity of the weapon per se, but how its use would be regarded by "world opinion." This political argument was extremely frustrating to the Joint Chiefs, who managed to make only slight dents in the napalm prohibition. Through 1961-64, napalm was authorized only for search and rescue operations, for Vietnamese forces flying under American tutelage, and for specified operations in Laos. Finally, in the spring of 1965, the United States began combat air operations in earnest, and the question of napalm use took on greater urgency. Only after direct representations to the President by the Chiefs was the napalm restriction lifted, on March 9, 1965, to permit use in any combat situation.5 And so when CBUs were ready for operational use a year later, the Chiefs were in no mood to engage in another debate over ordnance selection.

According to Mustin, no formal request was ever made by the Joint Chiefs to any political authority to use CBUs. "In our view, they were a purely conventional weapon, and we regarded them as available, and the less said, the better. Somebody somewhere would want to raise the argument, 'Well, do we or don't we want to authorize the use of this weapon?'. . . . We in J-3 [Directorate for Operations] had ways of exchanging information with our subordinate echelons all the way out to pilots on the line, and we just said, 'As far as we know, that's authorized to you, you've got 'em, use 'em when you want, and keep your mouth shut, or somebody will tell you that you can't.' "

It is a fair conclusion that military officers in the Pentagon downplayed the question of CBUs to deflect political channels from making an issue of their use, as they had done with napalm. CBUs were categorized and explained as a standard weapon, to be taken off the shelf-"conventional iron-mongery," in Mustin's words. Then again, since CBUs were described as flak suppression ordnance, demonstrably effective in protecting the lives of U.S. pilots, how could civilian channels argue against them? Finally, CBUs were never a headline-type weapon, either in the research-and-development stage or after deployment. Civilian assistant secretaries for R-and-D in the Navy and the Air Force had more pressing problems to consider. CBUs did not run into engineering problems; on the contrary, they were developed without major cost overruns or defects. Controlled fragmentation, from an R-and-D standpoint, was purely a technical matter. A former participant in the review process says with some disdain, "They made decisions on a cost-effective basis. They compared CBUs to blast bombs for cost and weight of effort." Because no political questions were raised, civilian heads of R-and-D programs turned their attention elsewhere. "We knew they were being developed," said another former official, "but they weren't a high profile item."

The Joint Chiefs, then, were only continuing the low profile inherited from the R-and-D community. The Chiefs did not believe they were being deceptive in their presentations to political channels; the top military men merely didn't volunteer anything about possible political repercussions. And since they were never quizzed about them with any severity from political channels, there the matter rested. Representations were, of course, made to the Secretary of Defense, but within the context of use and resupply of conventional ordnance needed to cut aircraft losses. At least one senior civilian official had the impression that the weapon was merely a more decisive way to use fragmentation-with no idea of the very wide effective range involved.

Once deployed, the major political question arose over inadequate resupply. CBUs may have been cost-effective, but they were still costly. In the military's estimation, the United States never achieved a manufacturing capability to meet demand adequately-and not because the Joint Chiefs never pressed the point. In some circles, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's reluctance in approving new production facilities was scandalous. In interviews with military and civilian officials, two schools of thought on his motivation for limiting CBU production emerge. The first argues economics. McNamara was determined not to end this war, so the theory goes, with huge surpluses of military equipment, as had happened during previous wars. Furthermore, he was suspicious of bloated and vague requirements brought to him by the Joint Chiefs. So it was natural that his practice of cutting requests for matériel by the Chiefs would carry over to the CBUs. The second argument, less popular than the first, hints that McNamara used the resupply power to place restrictions on CBUs in the theater. This argument is weakened somewhat by McNamara's choice of the CBU-24 as the kill weapon for his scheme to build an infiltration barrier to protect South Vietnam.6 Once the Secretary of Defense committed his prestige to the barrier, he had to make sure there were enough CBU-24s for that purpose.

For whatever reasons, the resupply problem was a real one. Demand was so great that there were regular airlifts of CBUs from one base to another to share limited supplies. Although no formal rules of engagement were placed on where, when and how CBUs were to be used, Mustin assumes there were oral instructions "of the most stringent variety" from field commanders to pilots not to use them "unless you've got a flak target." In addition, Mustin believes there were instructions to bring unexpended munitions back to base, instead of dropping them in designated areas, as was the case for standard blast bombs. Other military officials support this view. But the extent to which individual pilots exercised such restraint necessarily varied, given assertions by the press and foreign observers of their use in built-up areas, notably in North Vietnam but also on occasion in South Vietnam. Lack of supply proved to be the most effective political check on indiscriminate use, because once they were operational, civilian officials had little to say about CBUs.

Thus, political involvement at the State Department and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense was throughout of the shallowest kind. They, too, viewed these munitions in conventional terms. Moreover, many of the political officials were as hardline about tactics as their colleagues in uniform. The question of CBUs arose after significant numbers of U.S. troops had already been committed to the struggle, when political judgments were at a clear disadvantage in relation to military imperatives. CBU deployment took place after a series of protracted bureaucratic debates over military tactics, including decisions to use herbicides and napalm, when the political side was depleted from successive losses. Finally, political officials could not argue from a budgetary angle, as CBUs were undeniably cost-effective. Consequently, civilian input on CBUs related mostly to the question of revealing or not revealing the weapons in question. There was virtually no debate at technical or policy-making levels about the indiscriminate nature of the munition and mechanics for monitoring its use.


So the CBUs went into extensive use by the U.S. Air Force, becoming, in the words of a high Pentagon official of the period, "the darling of the aviators." They were employed primarily in North Vietnam and against the trail complex in eastern Laos. The most common targets were antiaircraft installations (flak suppression) and truck parks. They also appear to have been employed in connection with B-52 raids, primarily in key supply areas in Laos and the southern part of North Vietnam, and in connection with the final B-52 raids against the Hanoi area in December 1972 and early January 1973.

So far as the South was concerned, the restraints appear to have been more severe and the employment more limited. Perhaps the most hard-hit province was Quang Tri (adjacent to the border with the North), where an observation team led by the staff of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Refugees and Escapees obtained considerable testimony on their use during the Communist Easter Offensive of 1972. Within the past year, news reports have indicated that in some areas unexploded CBU bomblets form a significant part of the vast problem created by unexploded weapons littering the countryside.7

No knowledge is available on whether CBUs caused extensive civilian casualties in the trail areas of Laos; although no special restraints were apparently applied to their use in these areas, the general ground rules required that targets be at a significant distance from known villages.

In North Vietnam, however, extensive evidence exists. "Guavas" became a prime exhibit of the North Vietnamese to visitors, and the best descriptions of the range of CBU effectiveness have come, as already noted, from foreign observers who were given the opportunity to examine its effects extensively-in a situation where these could be readily separated from the very different impact of other types of bombs. The North Vietnamese would routinely take visitors to see traces of cluster bombing in Quang Binh and Phu Tho provinces, while reports of cluster bombing drops against six North Vietnamese cities-Hanoi, Haiphong, Nam Dinh, Thai Binh, Vinh, and especially Viet Tri-filtered out in various media during the course of the war.8 Given this wide area of use, one can say with assurance that a weapon with a damage radius of several square kilometers must have caused extensive civilian casualties, and in a high ratio to the military damage it unquestionably inflicted on its intended targets.

In the South, CBUs were much less extensively employed in proportion to other munitions; by and large, North Vietnamese antiaircraft in the South was mostly in direct connection with substantial military units and used at some distance from populated areas. On the other hand, in a few cases at the high point of the fighting, North Vietnamese units were active in areas largely under enemy control, and these included some of the highly populated provinces along the border and central coast. In general, efforts to separate out what proportion of civilian casualties was due to action by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese rather than to action by American, South Vietnamese and allied forces have been able to produce only the roughest sort of estimates.9

What is certain is that the CBU established itself during the Vietnam War as a highly effective weapon. Although the models used were not able to destroy well-placed guns or missiles, their total effect within the designated area did succeed in silencing the weapons and doubtless inflicting substantial casualties on their crews. Accordingly, from a military standpoint the CBU is now an established weapon in the U.S. Air Force. It is estimated that 29 percent of the Air Force's ordnance procurement budget for fiscal 1973 went to purchase controlled fragmentation munitions of the CBU type, and the U.S. inventory currently contains 30 varieties of CBUs, including some with incendiary loadings.10

Moreover, since the Vietnam experience is widely known, it appears certain that controlled fragmentation weapons of the CBU type will become a staple in arsenals at all points on the ideological spectrum. In recent months it has been reported that CBU stocks were rushed to Israel during the Yom Kippur War to combat Soviet-supplied SAM missile sites.11 How far this might go is suggested by reports that the Portuguese, recalling their part in helping the United States supply Israel during the same war, have let it be known that they require sophisticated weapons to deal with guerrilla antiaircraft activity in their African territories.12 Nor is it likely that the CBU technique has been neglected by the Soviet Union and its associates.


As the CBU story shows, powerful forces are at work to diminish the humanitarian perspective in policy-making. Policy assumptions, bureaucratic behavior, and political imperatives all work to dehumanize in the abstract; when placed in the context of weapons development and use during wartime, they become brutally real. This is especially true when area weapons are billed as life-savers to American infantrymen and pilots. The nature of the bureaucratic war machine does the rest-it minimizes responsibility while maximizing the possibilities of widescale damage to save American lives.

It is fatuous to believe that these dehumanizing forces can be swept aside, regardless of the indiscriminate characteristics of conventional weapons. The rules of international law are far too fragile and hazy to protect civilians from the devastation generated by controlled fragmentation munitions. The Fourth Hague Convention of 1907 (concerning the laws and customs of war on land) is considered a landmark in this field. The often-quoted provisions state, "The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited," and "it is especially forbidden . . . to employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering." International law has moved precious little from these strictures to the Geneva Convention of 1949, the last attempt by the international community to deal with the rules of warfare.

The Vietnam War has now underlined the urgent need to update the rules of warfare for the modern-day arsenal. Recently, a Swedish working group has attempted to devise guidelines for limiting the abuse of CBUs. Among their recommendations are limiting the size of the individual CBU fragments and fragment velocity; limiting the weight of the CBU canister; and limiting the use of CBUs to "well localized, military targets."13

Others have directed their attention to drafting additional protocols to the Geneva Convention. Under the prodding of the International Committee of the Red Cross, a governmental conference was convened in Geneva in February of this year to discuss draft protocols for international and non-international armed conflicts. Each protocol has extensive provisions relating to civilian populations. Articles 46 and 26 of the international and non-international draft protocols, for example, state in part:

The employment of means of combat, and any methods which strike or affect indiscriminately the civilian population and combatants, or civilian and military objectives, are prohibited. In particular it is forbidden:

(a) to attack without distinction, as one single objective, by bombardment or any other method, a zone containing several military objectives, which are situated in populated areas, and are at some distance from each other;

(b) to launch attacks which may be expected to entail incidental losses among the civilian population and cause the destruction of civilian objects to an extent disproportionate to the direct and substantial military advantage anticipated.

After the opening round of the Geneva Conference, American officials will participate this summer in interim talks related to conventional weapons. In February 1975, the Conference will reconvene, with the goal of producing protocols for ratification. Whether or not the above draft Articles and many others relating to civilian populations emerge unscathed is, at this point, a matter of conjecture. As expected, there are reports of considerable dissatisfaction on the part of the U.S. delegation with the draft proposals. The official American position is classified.


Whatever the possibilities of effective international agreement-and one must admit that they do not seem great-it is possible for the United States to take its own measures to meet the questions raised by area weapons. Would the CBU record have been the same if decision-makers had clearly faced the humancost consequences of their actions? Can we not at least design the decision-making mechanism so that such questions cannot be set aside as easily as they appear to have been in the CBU case? And must we not reckon that both present weapons and others not yet fully developed will raise on a continuing basis not only questions of political damage to America's reputation but the most fundamental issues of humane behavior?

In the very narrow realm of developing and using instruments of war, the United States could make four procedural changes that would make embarrassing questions more difficult to avoid, and sharpen the focus on the human costs of policy decisions. These would be:

1. Get political input on weapons development from the start.

At present there is virtually no input from the Department of State or the White House during the early phases of weapons development. Yet this is precisely where it should be done, because once area weapons are operational, checks on them become more difficult to enforce. Despite this, politico-military affairs personnel at State receive only occasional summaries of R-and-D projects, and these relate almost exclusively to the field of strategic weapons. The White House has recently abolished the Office of Science and Technology, which could have played a useful monitoring role. The Congress has the power of review via the appropriations process, but this procedure is notoriously weak. The newly created Office of Test and Evaluation in the Pentagon can be a useful place to start. Still this checkpoint, like all others at present, effectively lies within the R-and-D community. But weapons developers are asked very specific questions about their work, and they are trained to give very specific answers. "My job," in the words of a current R-and-D official, "is to hear what the brass wants, to say whether it's possible with the financial restraints and the state of the art, and then to deliver as much as I can."

As we have seen from the CBU study, political input generally comes in only at the last moment and at the highest levels. Obviously, the President and his top advisers have limited expertise to weigh the operational consequences of their decisions when working in a crisis atmosphere. They must rely heavily on the opinions of the Joint Chiefs, but this is not enough.

One way to develop political expertise on individual weapons is to ask political questions at the outset of weapons development. In an interview, Dr. Eugene G. Fubini, former Deputy Director of Defense Research and Engineering, suggests a "four-sided table" approach to each R-and-D project. Around the table would sit one intelligence analyst who discusses what kind of threat exists ; one operations expert who says what operation he needs and can carry on provided he has been given the tools; one materiel analyst who discusses what actually can be developed given current technology; and one cost analyst who determines how many weapons could be available and at what cost. Fubini calls for a person-to-person discussion that will: (a) force a realistic evaluation of the threat; (b) emphasize "force" performance rather than weapons performance as the basic problem; (c) tie performance to an acceptable operational concept. In an informal sense, such a table already exists; operations, intelligence, cost, and matériel analysts communicate with one another but their discussions are all too often devoid of the political analysis Fubini and others call for.

A way to insure political analysis is to add a fifth corner to the negotiating table (appropriate enough in the Pentagon) and add a political analyst who will evaluate the political implications of the weapon. As there is no way of judging which R-and-D projects eventually bear fruit (defoliants were a low priority item before Vietnam), political officers should be assigned to every development project. In addition to participating in the Defense Systems Review Council which evaluates R-and-D projects, political officers should be familiar with the operations of R-and-D field units, matériel and systems commands of the various services, and R-and-D efforts farmed out to private firms by the Defense Department.

This procedure in no way ensures a "humane" political input to R-and-D decisions. But the effort can certainly be no worse than current practice, and has the potential of being much better.

2. Evaluate collateral damage possibilities of weapons as they are developed.

"Weapons are somewhat like drugs," notes Dr. Alexander Flax, former Assistant Secretary of Air Force Research and Development. "You buy them for their positive results, and you don't always recognize their side effects." Weapons developers need to be asked about the side effects of their products. Providing the best weapons that technology can produce can be disastrous, so that categorization of weapons effects in all imaginable situations before they are deployed is imperative. Decision-makers will need this information if they are to reduce collateral damage as they go about the business of prosecuting a war.

There are many ways to generate proper testing and data for collateral damage. The Weapons Systems Evaluation Group (WSEG), has been in the business of evaluating weapons' capabilities since it was organized in 1949. The jargon at WSEG may be the thickest in the entire Pentagon, perhaps because of its work with computers evaluating the damage characteristics of nuclear weapons. WSEG can also simulate the collateral damage for antipersonnel weapons, based on the weapons' specifications, location of noncombatants, and delivery accuracy. At each stage of the R-and-D process (basic research, exploratory development, engineering development, and production), WSEG or some other agency of government should evaluate collateral damage. With chemical weapons, environmental and teratogenic assessments should be required as well.

3. Prepare guidelines for antipersonnel weapons' use prior to engagement.

No one can predict with any certainty the dynamics of warfare. And no country will be bound by strict rules of engagement or ordnance selection drawn up in a vacuum. These caveats aside, it is still necessary to formulate a framework in these areas within which the armed forces of this country will operate. The most frustrating aspect of the Vietnam War from a military perspective was that an overreaching strategy never was formulated, and that the North Vietnamese, Vietcong, Soviets and Chinese did the designing for us. If contingency guidelines on ordnance selection and rules of engagement are drawn up far in advance, they will force a pointed discussion on subjects that were never raised in any systematic fashion during the Vietnam War. Hawks and doves, whether in uniform or out, chafed against the ground rules as they evolved, but few public servants on either side resigned, fearing that their replacements would be even less effective in the bargaining process. If guidelines were drawn at the outset, individuals would have to face up to their responsibilities more candidly. This procedure is also fairer to the military, who should know what they're getting into and under what ground rules. Finally, establishing ground rules at the outset can be more effective in holding the line against the expanding threshold for collateral damage which marked the Vietnam War. Baselines can be used to evaluate how far from the ground rules field operations have strayed, and to analyze operations in view of concrete policy objectives.

4. Conduct field checks once weapons are operational.

Once the decision to go to war has been made, pressures to increase collateral damage and to loosen checks on military commanders will be enormous. Once weapons are introduced onto the battlefield, their uses seem to multiply.

An organization in charge of a military operation can be required to deliver collateral damage assessments, and encouraged to be candid about them. But there is still no substitute for an independent evaluation by some body that does not have its reputation at stake in the proceedings.

Analysis of weapons' performance should not be left exclusively to the military. Technicians, civilian intelligence analysts, and laymen all have a constructive role to play here. Robert Komer, former chief pacification adviser in Vietnam, argues for a greater role by technicians. "Scientists designed the weapons," says Komer, "and they know best what they can do." Another top-ranking official at the State and Defense Departments during the war years suggests a review board including distinguished technical experts to monitor the research, development, and operational phases of weaponry.

Military operations analysts can still play a useful role. They have been used in the past to evaluate major engagements. Although they would be less than welcome by field commanders on counterinsurgency operations, they are nonetheless needed. In equipping police or allied forces, the United States uses as a rule of thumb the principle that our military friends should have roughly the same kind of equipment as their enemies. This principle prevents our allies from fighting the wrong kind of war, and relying on equipment rather than motivation. The same principle does not hold true for U.S. troops. "The last thing a professional military man wants is a fair fight," says Major General Daniel S. Campbell, U.S.A. (Ret.), former Joint Chiefs of Staff liaison to the National Security Council. "He wants a preponderance of strength on his side." The firepower at the disposal of U.S. forces is unmatched anywhere. Quite aside from the consequences of this fact for winning guerrilla wars, the consequences for generating collateral damage are unmistakable. Operations analysts can be one mechanism for limiting battlefield abuses, if they are specifically asked to comment on damage and weapons' effects.

Other kinds of checks can be applied as well. During the Vietnam War, officials at the State Department tended to dwell on the question of target selection, even though ordnance selection resulted in far greater human costs. In the future, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) should initiate research memoranda on the political repercussions of ordnance selection.

More simply put, what these recommendations are directed toward is opening up the decision-making process. The consequences of excessive secrecy have been more recently under fire domestically, but the results are the same: a filtering process which eliminates all nonsupportive information and fosters self-justification through abdication of responsibility. Greater participation by sensitive political officials would sustain a healthy adversary process at every stage of decisions to develop and use weapons.


When all is said and done, however, there is no amount of procedural tinkering that can effectively substitute for intelligent and humane political leadership at the highest levels.

Military officials believe it is their job to protect the interests of the United States, as defined by political authorities. Political officials believe it is their job to define those interests, but they are reluctant to oversee the way the military goes about performing its task. The one instance where political input is expected and given to military commanders relates to nuclear weapons. Everyone concedes that there must be political oversight of these indiscriminate and lethal weapons. With the Vietnam War, we have perfected another kind of ordnance-CBUs-which result in a different kind of indiscriminate destruction. The issues raised by area weapons must be faced squarely. The consequences of not doing so will weigh heavily on our nation's reputation and conscience. The former field commander I quoted at the start of this article has had the opportunity to evaluate antipersonnel weaponry, and he has no hesitation about using it in the future. But at least he realizes the costs when he says, "God help the civilians in the next war."


1 This article is based on research for a broader study on area weapons undertaken by the Student Advisory Committee on International Affairs. Lee Kimball, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, assisted in the research and interviews, and Gary Gilbert, University of Maryland, assisted in the research. All statements quoted directly or in substance have been checked with the sources interviewed.

There are three major information centers on area weapons in the United States, although information in all three is quite spotty. The American Friends Service Committee's research arm, NARMIC (112 South 16th Street, Philadelphia 19102) has extensive files and clippings that are open to the public. They have published The Simple Art of Murder, Antipersonnel Weapons and Their Developers. The Indochina Resource Center (1322 18th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036) also has extensive files open to the public. On the west coast, NACLA (Box 226, Berkeley 94701) has investigated the subject.

Abroad, the subject has received much wider public attention. Substantial evidence is contained in John Duffett, ed., Against the Crime of Silence: Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal, Flanders, N.J.: O'Hare Books, 1968. Recently, the International Committee of the Red Cross has published the most judicious overview of the subject, Weapons That May Cause Unnecessary Suffering or Have Indiscriminate Effects, Geneva (7 Rue de la Paix), 1973. An offshoot of the Red Cross study is the Swedish working group study by Torgil Wulff, et al., entitled: Conventional Weapons: Their Deployment and Effects From a Humanitarian Aspect, Stockholm: The Royal Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 1973 (available from the Swedish Embassy, 600 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037). The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI, Sveavagen 166, S-113 46, Stockholm) has published five volumes on chemical and biological warfare and one on incendiaries; one is soon to be published on area weapons.

2 Duffett, op. cit., p. 260.

3 ICRC, op. cit., p. 44.

4 Wulff, et al., op. cit., p. 122.

5 The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of United States Decision-Making on Vietnam, the Senator Gravel edition, Boston: Beacon Press, 1971-72, v. III, p. 278.

7 Thus, The Washington Post reported on July 8, 1973, that undetonated "guavas" were acting like miniature land mines in the effort to reclaim fields for farming.

9 The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee study mission estimates that "well over 50 percent of civilian casualties were attributed to GVN and U.S. firepower." Hearing on the Relief and Rehabilitation of War Victims in Indochina, Washington: G.P.O., 1973, part IV. p. 9.

10 In the FY 1973 ordnance appropriation of $666.3 million, the following appropriations were itemized: $37.5m for CBU-25; $9.3m for CBU-55; $44.2m for CBU-58; $96m for MK-20 (Rockeye) ; $8.5m for BLU-32; figures from The Center for Defense Information, Washington, D.C.

11 The Washington Post, November 10, 1973, p. A16.

12 The Washington Post, November 14, 1973.

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