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Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 11:13 GMT
Should Nato's uranium weapons be banned?
Nato has attempted to calm fears over the use of depleted uranium weapons.
Nato Secretary-General George Robertson has promised to give a "high priority" to investigations that depleted uranium has caused cancer in former soldiers.
Italy, Germany and several other countries are demanding more information from Nato on DU munitions, but Nato remain confident that there is minimal risk to health.
Is their use justifiable? Is Nato putting its soldiers and peacekeepers at risk unnecessarily? Has the possible risk to civilians been adequately assessed by Nato?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I refuse to believe that, in the twenty-first century, DU is the only weapon capable of stopping Saddam's army. I do, however, believe that it's extensive use in the Gulf War probably indicates a financial benefit. If there is anything that can be learned from the politicians of today it is that there is nothing more important to them than money, and ignore the consequences. After all, not one of them will ever be held responsible for this or any other environmental disaster.
I don't really have any sympathy with the army personnel - they dumped the stuff all over Serbia and Iraq and forgive me - but how was this DU ever going to be safe? Now they say they will use tungsten - well it is a bit late now.
So the pursuit for "democracy" requires war? Does anyone realise the controversy of these words? How can anything be called democracy if you impose it by violence? DU is a crime. If the Hague Tribunal is an impartial court of justice, then cannot Nato be tried? Or is it that only Nato can bring someone to that court? And who gave the right to Nato to set the rules for democracy? If their democracy is fought with carcinogenic substances, than, we need no such democracy!
The weapons are fine. They are designed to kill and destroy an enemy in war. The problem is using them in a situation like this. They are not designed to be used in a nation building/ saving conflict. I believe it is a war crime to use these types of munitions in a heavily populated area when there is no war.
Depleted uranium poses an unnecessary level of risk to the armies of Italy, France, Belgium, Spain and Holland. It is incumbent upon these democratic nations to remove their soldiers from the Balkans arena immediately. The risks of action are simply incalculable.
As I am a serviceman in the RAF I have obvious fears about depleted uranium.
And though I would greatly welcome any thorough independent enquiry I feel that we shouldn't unilaterally ban depleted uranium weapons, instead put them on hold until all information is in.
The producers of DU weapons must prove through clinical trials that these weapons do not pose a threat to human health, rather than the victims having to prove that Uranium is radioactive and toxic.
R Stewart , UK
I served in the UNPROFOR, IFOR and SFOR missions in Bosnia when I was in the Royal Navy. It was the most worthwhile thing I have ever done in my life, assisting in some small way a country torn apart by war return to peace. The US airforce fired over 10,800 DU rounds from A10 aircraft, their own troops were not on the ground at that time, they will not expose them to any risk. But they will put the lives of their allies at risk. The US armed forces and Department of Defense must answer to their cavalier attitude with the health and safety of their allies. If they are not prepared to risk their own ground troops until it is safe to do so, they should not rely on their allies to do the risky jobs. The US knew the risk of DU ten years ago, that is why they stopped producing DU ammunition for the Vulcan Phalanx gun which they sold to the Royal Navy, together with the risky ammunition, did they also disclose the risk?
Unbelievable hypocrisy! First we heard the claim that the war in Kosovo was 'humanitarian'; has anyone ever heard of a worse oxymoron than this? Then we discover that during this 'humanitarian' war, DU weapons were used, even though we've been hearing about the Gulf War syndrome, the increased child cancer rates in Iraq, and their possible relation to DU, for years. Surely, DU is more dangerous when breathed or eaten than when one is simply exposed to it? Now, as it climbs up the food chain, the entire region of the Balkans could possibly be at risk. Well done, NATO for a successful 'humanitarian' solution to the Kosovo problem. Who voted these people to power, anyway?
Don't hold your breath. The mills of the M.O.D. grind slow, very slow. Just ask any survivors of the 1950's nuclear tests in the pacific.
Yes, DU weapons should absolutely be banned. War is horrific under any circumstances, especially air war against civilians such as was conducted in Kosovo, and it is only a further atrocity for the governments of nations that delude themselves into considering themselves "humanitarian" to wage war using weapons which will have lasting effects not only on generations of innocent people but on the other creatures on this planet that have had no part in any war and do not deserve to be poisoned at our convenience.
Norman R, New Zealand
It looks like that Iraq needs to send weapons inspectors to the US. We obviously can't trust the word of the US military.
Yes they should be banned unless and until those who make and use them can show that they cause no lasting damage other than that from the impact. Even then they are hardly useful since the tanks have been coated in DU. Why not agree to take DU off of both? Maybe those who make both the tanks and the shells that can bust them would not make enough money. A pox on them and the MoD for their betrayal of those who were willing to die on our behalf.
The thing about DU is that radioactivity isn't the hazard, it's that DU or any uranium, is highly chemically toxic apart from the radioactivity, as it is a heavy metal and bonds so well with neurological-related ions. If you are looking for this stuff in squaddies, you need to check both the brain over the ears with a CATSCAN or the liver likewise. It's far worse than mercury.
Do wounded soldiers ever complain about lead poisoning? I always thought that if people signed up for the military, they should expect to get wounded or killed. Perhaps the media should be running a series on work being done to find non-violent resolutions to conflict. Pressure for the diversion of some of the outrageous amounts of money devoted to arms and war, towards researching peaceful means of dialogue would undoubtedly eliminate this problem. Isn't it time the people of this and every nation grew up, and realised that the world is too small for our petty prehistoric behaviour.
What is there to debate? It is insane to produce or use nuclear products - full stop - whether in weapons, power plants, or food irradiation. There is absolutely no way to safely dispose of the by-products - and there never will be a safe method. It is a disgrace for the US to be spreading this nuclear violence around the world. It is being used by my government and the corporations involved as a way to dispose of some of the huge accumulation of nuclear waste for which there is no long-term solution.
M. Baldwin, UK
I served in Kosovo from December 1999 to July 2000.
My biggest health-related concern about my duty there is the levels of other pollution like air pollution, open sewage, asbestos.
I wonder if the hazardous levels of pollution are contributing to those soldiers' deaths?
Of course it should be banned. Where is the public outrage for the things that our governments
are doing in our name? We've been lied to, manipulated, somebody made a good profit out of
manufacturing this weapon too! Now, since our loved ones are not in grave danger from it
all we can do is sit back and relax !? After all, it is happening to some people we don't know, we have nothing to do with, and it is not affecting us in any way, so why should we care? Horrific.
MOD apologists, are trying to avoid admitting, for as long as possible, what they and others have known for years. That is, that tiny amounts of alpha emitters, such as depleted uranium, pose a small threat when outside the body but a massive threat when ingested through breathing or eating / drinking.
They know that this will eventually out, but are seeking to delay as long as possible, aware that litigation claims for potentially massive damages by UK and foreign military and civilians will have greater chance of success once these facts are admitted.
Would Nato object to other countries it perceives as potential enemies stock-piling and using, off-shoots of nuclear weapons? It is a fact the US and its allies have been the first in using and in fact inventing every destructive weapon in recent history. The notion of using weapons of mass destruction to shorten wars rings hollow for the Japanese, Vietnamese or Iraqis who decades on are suffering from deformities in new-borns and many other wounds that history won't heel.
I can't believe the foolish amount of hype this thing is getting. Less than 30 soldiers have become ill, out of several hundred thousand? Come on people - that's not even a standard deviation off the norm. Until more cases are reported, statistical analysis does not show that alarm is warranted.
The Balkan was testing ground for future wars. Technology was enhanced, equipment was tested and profits were made. The questions regarding the conduct of war are left for those who wish to pretend that ethics and war can be in the same sentence. The enemy is not DU, Nato or the Serbs/others; rather it is ignorance, arrogance and hate.
Before the technology is improved to put the planet out of orbit, humanity needs to grow. The solutions is to ban hateful conduct (i.e. pouring poison on others). The power of intellect is far more persuasive than DU arrows thrown at the Serbian tanks. The sorrow is that the greed of war overcomes common sense.
Let's consider the situation. We've got one tank and one DU missile. We fire the DU misslile at the tank and blow it to smithereens, making a crater the size of tennis court and turning the soldiers inside into steam. And we are worried about the health of the person who fired the missile! Does anyone think our concern here is slightly misplaced?
When the weapons were designed they were for use in a possible world war where the radiation levels were expected to be high anyway, soldiers and civilians alike would almost certainly have been exposed to radiation! Nato needed an effective and cost-effective way of defeating Warsaw Pact forces and depleted uranium was it - it rips tanks to pieces. Unfortunately the Americans forgot to inform everyone that their weapons were radioactive, including their own ground troops!
In the 1950's my Uncle was in the Navy. While off the coast of Australia, they were all sent up on deck to watch the nuclear tests.
About 12 years ago he went to the doctor with a cough. Within 8 weeks he was dead from lung cancer.
The MOD denies any responsibility....
Perhaps next time
decide war is the
answer they should
take up arms
fight it out,
leaving the rest of
us to rejoice at
After serving in Bosnia for aprox 12 months, I find it hard to hear people to say this should be banned, that should be banned etc. If we didn't use DU rounds there would be many, many more people dead. I will, however, be taking the British Government up on their offer to screen people.
I know this sound ridiculous, but the notion of banning certain weapons on health grounds is laughable in the extreme - surely the point of a weapon is that it is entirely destructive. Since when did we begin to get selective about what weapons we would use and whether they would carry any side-effects?
Sin Lee Huang, UK
If a person is willing to up his/her life for their country, then every attempt should be made to assist him/her in the future or when they need it. This country (government) appears to forget these people in THEIR HOUR OF NEED.
Many people are comment as if the link to cancer is de facto, this is remains to be seen. I myself have strong suspicions regarding DU ammo, but I will reserve judgement until I know all the available facts. I am pleased that countries like Italy and Portugal are leading the investigation as I have little faith in the US ever announcing the ammo as hazardous, and unfortunately the UK tends to do what it is told to do and say what it's told to say by it's big brother the US.
The answer is 'Yes'. Replace the DU with Gold and the problem is solved whilst retaining the penetrating power of heavy metal. What's more enemy armour will queue up to be fired at just for the Gold delivery. Gold is marginally more dense (higher SG) than Uranium 239.
Sgt. Mike finds it his "sacred" honour to defend and die for his country. He has been fed so many lies that he is starting to believe them himself. That's sad because his superiors don't care about his wellbeing, although they might say they do. Wake up Sgt. Mike, dying while fighting for the capitalistic goal is neither sacred, nor honourable. Or has the uranium gone to your head?
C J Hendrick, UK
Perhaps we should ban weapons of all descriptions. When war breaks out foot soldiers should be used, and their mode of attack should be to creep up on the enemy and shout BOO! very loudly. If they are sufficiently good at the new combat their enemies will be reduced to gibbering wrecks and the battle will be won. Come on, get real. Weapons are dangerous. That's why they were made in the first place.
Chris K, Greece
Any sceptics out there regarding the use and after-effects of DU in warfare, I have one suggestion for you. Take a visit to Iraq where the rate of leukaemia has multiplied 10-fold since the Gulf War, especially in the south where it was most heavily used.
The question is not if Nato should ban uranium weapons, but if Europe should ban Nato altogether..
My wife's Danish stepfather was in Kosovo with the UN. He has now been diagnosed with Leukaemia. The problem lies not in the fact that the DU weapons were used, but that UN officials (non-combatants) were not warned nor given adequate protection against the effects. When will governments stop covering up truths they think we don't want to know?
Ed Austin, New Zealand
Politicians in the US and Europe are only concerned with the wellbeing of their soldiers. While this is an important issue, what about the civilians who have to deal
with the effects of these weapons long after the soldiers
have left? In the West, at least there is access to healthcare and treatment. What about in Serbia and Kosovo?
Looks like Agent Orange all over again. Is there a civilised war? Guess that my country needs to reassess what it calls humanitarian actions. Maybe these weapons are necessary. But if so, soldiers and civilians need to be protected from the after-effects. Or can they be?
Why can't we ban all kinds of weapons, so that
people can only fight with their bare hands?
Trust me - having been to Serbia there is no doubt the US/ Nato soldiers there would rather be someplace, anyplace, else. Nato is not the source of all the problems of the Balkans. I would much rather have spent the time with my family.
I am in the US Marines and when I
signed up for the
armed forces I knew
the risks that some
weapons put on my
health. But it's my sacred honour to lay
down my life and my
HEALTH to protect
my country and its
citizens. I fight and sometimes it's
necessary to use
some weapons to
shorten a war. If
not more people
would DIE and a
higher chance my
buddies would too.
All those who say "War is violent, so
what's the fuss?" seem to pride themselves on
their so called common sense and pragmatism,
and anyone who disagrees is a "loony lefty".
But is there anything logical or pragmatic about a
soldier avoiding a quick death by destroying a
tank, only to suffer a long lingering death from
the very weapon he uses for its destruction?
Those who order the use of DU weapons and claim they are safe should have a part of their homes made into DU weapons depots.
Vandenrijt Katrien, Belgium
Heavy metals are needed in the making of armour piecing shells. In peacetime we do not allow lead in paint but in war clouds of heavy metal dust are most probably being blown by the wind over the whole area of conflict. The cost of losing a war would be higher than some exposure the these hazardous substances.
Isn't it just typical of our European "allies" to cry and complain about anything the Americans do - until they need their messes cleaned up on the Continent. Then they dial "911" and we have to send our sons over there to take care of business. War is nasty business and we should use what we have to in order to get the job done.
The fact of using weapons containing depleted uranium in the Balkans provides The Hague Tribunal and its Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte with an excellent opportunity to demonstrate their impartiality and evenhandedness.
This reminds me of the tests the US
used to do with nuclear weapons - i.e.
seeing how soon after detonation a
ground force can advance. Until we
know the full effects of these weapons,
without inadvertent testing on soldiers
and civilians, they should not be used.
Once again, Nato cares ONLY about its soldiers who spend a month or two in the Balkans and does not give a damn about the civilians who live there and whose children will be born with genetic defects for generations to come.
Andrew Reid, London, UK
When I signed up for the US Army I knew that it was a commitment to give my life for my country if needed. This is something that soliders in every volunteer army in the world knows. I knew that I would be exposed to weapons that would be both deadly to the enemy and possibly me. Risk always has and will be part of the job.
Maybe depleted uranium is dangerous, maybe it
isn't. But we also need to consider whether it
would cost more lives not to use it. All other
things being equal, more people get killed if it
takes longer to win a war, so let's make sure
it's not going to jeopardise more lives than it
protects before we ban it.
Frankly, I am a fascinated by the Europeans' response to this whole fiasco. First, they supposedly have a problem in their own backyard. Then they let the US lead a war to bomb a neighbouring country into submission. And now they are complaining. With as much Christian charity as I can muster - it serves you right. It (Kosovo) never should have happened in the first place, and maybe this ensuing peripheral tragedy will teach you all a little lesson. War is never the right approach, and should never be the first option.
I disagree with Fraser's comment entirely. War is not war. There should be limits to what is acceptable and what isn't. His opinion might be different if he was in the armed forces rather than having a very cosy office job!!
Andrew from the Isle of Wight - how are you planning to enforce your global weapons ban? Uranium and nuclear weapons kept the US and USSR from each other's throats for most of the last fifty years.
Matt, London, UK
The real problem is that Nato might yet again have ruined the country they said they were trying to save. But then it wasn't about trying to save them - it was a political stunt. Just look at the relative value of British pilots compared to civilians. As long as our precious pilots were safe at 15,000 feet it didn't matter what happened on the ground. Same argument
The after-effects of depleted uranium use are well known. It is not just a matter of people dying from one cause or another. People in the Balkans Iraq, and the armed forces will be dying for years to come from the toxins released. Let's not put our heads in the sand.
Less effective weapons prolonging
conflict or even leading to a defeat
on the battlefield would likely cause
far more casualties than the limited
exposure suffered by soldiers.
The solution should not be a ban
but a search for ways to minimise
the exposure (protective gear, ways
to clean up DU from the battlefield
and so on).
Dr Riz Rahim, USA
After the Gulf War we should be used to the American forces killing more Allied soldiers than the enemy manages to. First we had "friendly fire" now we have "friendly weapons".
People who fire weapons regularly have high levels of lead in their blood because of the microscopic dust that's created when a bullet rushes through a gun barrel. Replace the lead with DU and you know what happened here.
By the way, does anyone remember the British vehicles that came back from the Gulf after they were fired upon by an American A10? Those vehicles were treated as nuclear waste!
It shouldn't be forgotten that depleted uranium can also be released, in similar conditions to military use, in air crashes such as the 747 accidents in Amsterdam and Stansted. This is because it was once used for balance weights in the tail. Maybe there should be a program to remove it from these aircraft.
Steve Brown, UK
I have read all the comments that people are making about war, weapons and especially DU weapons. I think its pathetic that everyone is complaining about DU saying that it causes cancer. How many of the people complaining about DU smoke. Smoking causes more deaths in the world than most wars. Wars are not pleasant they are not like the movies. However the only way the UK can remain an effective fighting force is to have the latest weapons and the best training. I was a soldier in the British Army and came into contact with DU as well as other munitions. I don't smoke and am in perfect health. People stop getting on the bandwagon, maybe you should look at banning smoking instead. I suppose you don't go against that because people who die from smoking are not put in the media, their death isn't dramatic enough.
Tony Blair was the most ardent exponent of the Kosovo expedition. His silence on this issue is deafening.
Remove NATO, remove the US from our European soil and all misery will be gone along with them.
I can't believe what I've read here. One American is arrogant enough to suggest that "bad food" and "cigarettes they smoked" are more likely to have caused leukaemia than DU! Outrageous!
Come to Kosmet and spend a few months down there if you think DU is harmless.
The problem here is not that weapons kill those that are targeted. The problem is that they kill those who are using them. If we were talking about cheap bullets that kept pre-firing causing death or injury to the user there would be no argument about changing the ammunition no matter how accurate it was. This is an issue about causing severe illness and/or death to the users, not what the weapons are used against.
How about some definitive proof. Is the link between the cancer and the DU ammunition proven, or is it anecdotal? It sounds like unsubstantiated panic because of the word uranium. What levels of radiation do DU shells expose their users too? What precautions are used?
It seems clear from the lack of bombing accuracy and the large numbers of civilian casualties during the Kosovo crisis that the billions of pounds/ dollars spent on high-tech armaments have been wasted. Yet we continue to throw more money at the MoD. How many more lives are to be squandered before we recognise that the only benefactors are the arms manufacturers? The weapons don't work and the innocent, be they soldiers or civilians continue to pay the price. In this new millennium isn't it time that we found new more peaceful, cheaper even, ways to settle differences?
These weapons have proven to be highly effective. Perhaps our whining allies might prefer to use mines. I am personally in favour of providing our military with the best possible weaponry.
War is messy. People die in it. That's the way of the
world. Rather than asking whether we should be clearing up the bits of
DU scattered around the Balkans, we should be asking
why Nato was involved there in the first place.
Clive Mitchell, UK
Not only should these weapons be banned but also all those politicians and generals of the rogue societies who knowingly, deliberately and intentionally used these weapons of mass destruction against innocent people should be treated as indicted war criminals committing heinous crimes against humanity and brought before an objective, impartial, universally acceptable global court of criminal justice for trial.
The British and American Governments are so two faced. They tried to fool us into thinking they were fighting the Kosovo war to save lives. We all saw through these lies. Then they use these weapons on innocent people. They don't care about anyone but themselves. It makes me ashamed to be British, especially as I read in the press today that the UK is trying to develop a similar bomb to the one the Russians have been using in Grozny. Seems to me that the whole world is going mad.
There appears to be a lot of hysteria and misinformation surrounding depleted uranium weapons. The danger of radiation contamination is minimal and linked to the cloud of dust caused by the weapon's impact. The dust disperses fairly quickly with little danger to the public. There is, however, an increased risk to troops in the immediate combat area.
I wonder how fast your previous contributor would jump onto the 'left wing/ hysteria bandwagon' if it was his young, previously healthy brother who was dying from leukaemia or it was his family's land that was poisoned? I can understand that these weapons are 'useful' in combat but if we are trying to move towards combat that is based on humanitarian grounds than perhaps it is time to reweigh the usefulness of these weapons with what seems to be their devastating effects on innocent people.
Charles Porter, USA
Depleted uranium (DU) is a stable variant of uranium. When the shells penetrate armour, intense heat causes the DU to burn, forming uranium oxide which is potentially harmful. Essentially the problems are caused by the by-products of war which are nothing new. Shells still lie unexploded in Belgium, atolls in the Pacific are still uninhabitable. It's the price we pay for technological advancement; our eventual extinction.
Why such an outcry on the use
of DU in the Kosovo conflict? Is it because
this time DU was used on European soil? Was
DU not used on the Iraqi army 10 years ago?
Would any Nato member country agree to have uranium weapons fired on their own territory? Which one and where?
Phivos Hadjigeorgiou, Cyprus
It is a worthy debate to consider the use of deadly force against an evil government, where rape, murder, torture, and theft are promoted. It is worthy to debate weapons of mass destruction as per se, evil. But I see no worth in debating the characteristics of the metal in a bullet. The long-term effects of DU on the battlefield are trivial relative to unexploded ordnance which are lethal for generations.
What must be remembered about the American use of chemical weapons throughout history is that America has never really had to live with the consequences of the use of chemicals weapons.
I think that the use of weapons such as Depleted Uranium by America would not come so easily if they affected by their actions.
As I come from a country where DU was used, I am horrified by the cruelty of some comments I have read here. All wars are terrible, all weapons are terrible, but the worse are those like DU, which produce such consequences. Their victims are always the innocent, plus the very soldiers who use them. They should definitely be banned.
Comments like 'War is war' seem to be missing the point that NATO is killing its own soldiers with DU. And would Mr. Newdick like to stand up in front of the families of the 6 dead Italian peacekeepers to tell them that the 'dangers... range from the minimal to the non-existent'. It is an ignorant comment from someone who obviously knows nothing about the dangers of radiation. I am not a 'noisy left wing nut', I am a doctor.
Edmond Rhys Jones, United Kingdom
The fact that these items contain radioactive material of such high levels means that these weapons come under the same banner as nuclear arms. They should be subjected to the same regulations and phased out as soon as possible. NATO thinks it can just dump these things all over the world, bully smaller states into their way of thinking and then leave.
As Donovan Said "He's the universal soldier and he really is to blame and without him all this killing can't go on."
You join the army you make your choice to expose yourself to death and injury. I don't see the difference between being injured by a weapon in your care and being shot or bombed. Personally it makes me sick that people still see the need to fight wars and that for me is the real point, not which weapons hurt who.
These are highly effective weapons whose "radiation" dangers, though not to be dismissed out of hand, range from the minimal to the non-existent. I'm afraid this is one of those subjects where the mere mention of the word "uranium" brings every noisy left wing nut out to join the hysteria band-wagon (adding not a little of their own in the process).
It is ironic that Nato's solution to a political problem may have produced a humanitarian disaster for the very population it was trying to protect. Whilst the danger to soldiers is starting to come out into the open, what about the civilian population whose land has maybe been polluted for generations to come?
War is war. You'll die one way or the other.
Gulf War syndrome and Balkan syndrome is same thing. Nato officials knew for 10 years, since the end of the Iraq war about this problem. There are a couple of studies in USA and Canada (since those bombs are made in Canada) about the connection of DU and Golf War syndrome.
All weapons should be banned. The fact that they exist puts every soul on this planet at risk.
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