The Biden administration has authorized the transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine, overriding the objections of rights advocates who demand a prohibition on these weapons due to their risk to civilian life.
Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, addressed this matter, acknowledging the risk posed by cluster munitions in terms of unexploded ordnance causing civilian casualties. He said, “We recognise that cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance. But there is also a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians.” Sullivan also rationalized that these munitions would act as a “bridge” supplementing conventional artillery as the US increases production of regular bombs and shells for Ukraine.
President Biden, in a conversation with CNN, admitted to the difficulty of the decision, citing the dwindling ammunition of the Ukrainians as a significant factor. This decision is part of the broader US military aid package for Ukraine, comprising armored vehicles and anti-armor weapons, as announced by the Pentagon.
The decision by the Biden administration has come under severe criticism from rights advocates due to the potential danger these weapons pose to Ukrainian civilians. Washington director of Human Rights Watch, Sarah Yager, expressed her disappointment, referring to the US move as “devastating.” She pointed out the horrific repercussions for civilians, predicting a harsh awakening to the humanitarian disaster once the impact becomes apparent.
Cluster bombs contain numerous smaller explosives that spread across a targeted area. Not all bomblets detonate on impact, and the residual unexploded ones, known as ‘duds,’ can remain embedded in the ground for years, posing a severe threat to civilians, especially children.
Despite not being globally banned, over 120 countries, including most NATO members, have endorsed a convention prohibiting the use of cluster munitions. The US, Ukraine, and Russia are not signatories to this agreement.