Last remaining US maker of cluster bombs stops production
By JOHN HUDSON | Foreign Policy | Published: September 1, 2016
The last remaining United States manufacturer of cluster bombs is ending production of the controversial weapon, citing reduced orders for the internationally banned munition.
The decision by Rhode Island-based Textron Systems follows a White House order last May to block the transfer of a Textron shipment of CBU-105 cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, a move first reported by Foreign Policy.
The White House had come under intense pressure by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International after those groups documented instances in which Saudi-led forces used CBU-105 munitions in multiple locations around Yemen, including Al-Amar, Sanhan, Amran and the Al-Hayma port.
The blocked transfer was the first concrete step the United States took to demonstrate its unease with the Saudi bombing campaign, one that human rights activists say has killed and maimed hundreds of Yemeni civilians, including children.
Cluster bombs, like the CBU-105, contain bomblets that can scatter widely and kill or injure indiscriminately. Sometimes bomblets fail to detonate immediately and can kill civilians months or even years later. The weapons were banned in a 2008 international treaty that arms-sales giants, including the United States and Russia, refused to sign.
In a filing to regulators on Tuesday, Textron noted that the sale of of its "sensor-fuzed weapon" requires executive branch and congressional approval. "The current political environment has made it difficult to obtain these approvals," said the company.
As a result of the decision to end production, there will be "headcount reductions [and] facility consolidations" said the company.
When asked about the hold on cluster bomb shipments in May, a U.S. official cited reports that the Saudi-led coalition used cluster bombs "in areas in which civilians are alleged to have been present or in the vicinity."
"We take such concerns seriously and are seeking additional information," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Following media coverage of the White House's block, peace activists picketed outside Textron's offices in Wilmington calling for an end of the production of cluster bombs.
Since March 2015, when Saudi Arabia launched its military campaign against the Houthi rebellion in Yemen, at least 6,200 people have died and nearly 3 million have been displaced from their homes. The conflict is often viewed as a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia, which backs the Yemeni government in exile, and Iran, which has provided some support to Houthi rebels, who are part of a Shiite sect.
At the moment, political talks sponsored by the United Nations have collapsed while the U.S. has called on all sides to stop fighting. Saudi officials have said they cannot accept Houthi control of large swaths of Yemen, and have noted that they have intercepted several missiles shot by Houthi rebels.
In a statement to FP, Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Mary Wareham praised the decision. "Textron was the last U.S. manufacturer of cluster munitions so this decision now clears the path for the administration and Congress to work together to permanently end U.S. production, transfer and use of cluster munitions," she said.
In an upbeat note to investors about the decision, Barclays analyst Carter Copeland said the production of cluster bombs limited the "ownability" of Textron shares among foreign investment funds "due largely to interpretations of where [Textron] stood vis-a-vis international weapons treaties." As a result, the decision could expand Textron's investor base in Europe, Copeland said.