Recently, President Obama announced a $90 million dollar package to remove unexploded bombs in Laos. Laos was the center of a lesser known and covert proxy battle for many years. But, today many are still experiencing the hardships of the war as unexploded ordnance is injuring Laotian civilians, including children. “An estimated 80 million cluster bombs were left unexploded in Laos after the US bombing campaign more than 40 years ago, as part of the Vietnam War,” CNN reports.

President Obama’s trip to Laos is the first ever by a sitting U.S. president. Strategically, this is a part of the “pivot to Asia” strategy that has been set in place. Southeast Asia is increasing in relevance and tensions, lately. Japan has markedly increased its military spending and China continues to make advances and attempt to flex dominance in the region. An increased preoccupation of the U.S. in the affairs of Southeast Asia will grow in turn. Our diplomatic ties and good faith with countries, including Laos may prove to be strategically vital in the years to come.

Western business and commerce may also play a role in thwarting Chinese influence in the region. As some Western companies are beginning to set up shop in Southeast Asia and encourage some companies to leave Eastern China and do business in other countries, such as Myanmar (formerly Burma). To most Americans, it’s an area of intrigue as little is known. The average American knows little of the culture of the Middle East, where Americans have had a substantial presence for a generation. In the coming years, it may be difficult for the average American to understand future decisions when it comes to the Southeast Asia.

The secret war in Laos is an example of something most Americans know little about. According to Legacies of War, “The bombings were part of the U.S. Secret War in Laos to support the Royal Lao Government against the Pathet Lao and to interdict traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The bombings destroyed many villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Lao civilians during the nine-year period.” The campaign supported the Lao government against communist actors in an attempt to cut off supplies to Vietnam. At the time it was a hardship of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, North Korea and communist actors.

But here are some figures laid out by Legacies of War:

  • Over 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War (210 million more bombs than were dropped on Iraq in 1991, 1998 and 2006 combined); up to 80 million did not detonate.
  • Nearly 40 years on, less than 1% of these munitions have been destroyed. More than half of all confirmed cluster munitions casualties in the world have occurred in Laos.
  • Each year there are now just under 50 new casualties in Laos, down from 310 in 2008. Close to 60% of the accidents result in death, and 40% of the victims are children.
  • Between 1993 and 2016, the U.S. contributed on average $4.9M per year for UXO clearance in Laos; the U.S. spent $13.3M per day (in 2013 dollars) for nine years bombing Laos.
  • In just ten days of bombing Laos, the U.S. spent $130M (in 2013 dollars), or more than it has spent in clean up over the past 24 years ($118M).”

The President’s visit and the additional $90 million is probably the right thing to do and a good strategic diplomatic step in the region.

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