Cluster munitions are internationally banned, but the weapon is being used in Syria and Ukraine right now, causing mounting civilian casualties. There has been documented and widespread use of cluster munition in Syria, by the Syrian government. Yemen now joins this list, with the Saudis engaging in cluster bombing with U.S. supplied bombs. The widely banned munitions contain dozens of submunitions, which sometimes do not explode, becoming de facto landmines able to kill and main long after they are dropped. Washington permits use and export because of an unexploded ordnance rate of less than one per cent. This figure, of less than one percent, is just another one of those terms, like collateral damage and strategic depth, which legitimises horrific and unjust death. Cluster bombs release many small bomblets over a wide area and they pose risks to civilians both during attacks and afterwards.

This is just history repeating itself. In 1991, the US and its allies (France, Saudi Arabia, UK) dropped 61,000 cluster bombs containing some 20 million submunitions in Iraq during the Gulf War. What we potentially have here is not just an illegal intervention under international law, but a blatant breaking of international human rights and weapons conventions. But, Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners and the United States never signed the international treaty that prohibits cluster bombing and are thus legally in the clear, though not ethically. This is a clear attempt to wipe out all opposition in Yemen, rather than any attempts at peaceful negotiation or rehabilitation of the Houthi rebels.

Saudi Arabia needs to be careful of international opinion. It may well have the power to crush the rebel movement in Yemen, but at the cost of becoming the regional villain. Saudi Arabia has come under growing international criticism for the high civilian death toll during its aerial campaign, which has been carried out over more than five weeks with logistical support from the U.S. Human Rights Watch is already raising alarm bells and even in Pakistan, there has been a mass shift in pro-Saudi opinion among the population. From the once benevolent regional power, the Kingdom risks being seen as violent, destructive and unreasonable. There have been no precise tallies of deaths caused by the Saudi airstrikes, in part because of the difficulties human rights groups face in accessing parts of Yemen. The full extent of the destruction of Yemen will not be realised for a long time and most Muslim countries, as well as the U.S., always shy away from criticising the Kingdom.