By Naveen Athrappully
Major U.S. allies responded negatively to Washington’s decision to include cluster munitions in a new, $800 million military aid package for Ukraine, with some citing the danger of such weapons to civilians while others pointed to international treaty violations.
On July 7, the United States announced that it will send such weapons to Kyiv.
The munitions, also called cluster bombs, are delivered by rockets, missiles, and aircraft, and release a large number of smaller bombs, referred to as bomblets, that can kill indiscriminately over a large area.
“I have followed the media reports,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters on July 7 that Berlin opposes Washington’s decision, Reuters reported. “For us, as a state party, the Oslo agreement applies.”
The agreement Baerbock referred to is the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) agreement signed by 111 nations in Oslo, Norway, in December 2008. The convention prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of such munitions. The United States, Ukraine, and Russia aren’t party to the CCM.
The Canadian government expressed its disapproval of Washington’s plan on July 8.
“We do not support the use of cluster munitions and are committed to putting an end to the effects cluster munitions have on civilians—particularly children,” the government told CTV News in a statement.
“Canada is fully compliant with the Convention and we take seriously our obligation under the Convention to encourage its universal adoption.”
Speaking to reporters on July 8, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that his country is a “signatory to a convention which prohibits the production or use of cluster munitions and discourages their use,” according to BBC.
The governments of Spain and New Zealand have also opposed sending cluster bombs for use in the Ukraine war. New Zealand is one of the nations that pushed for the creation of the CCM.
In his July 7 remarks announcing the U.S. decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine, national security adviser Jake Sullivan justified the move by arguing that not doing so would endanger Kyiv even more.
“So, the bottom line is this, we recognize the cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance … This is why we deferred the decision for as long as we could,” he said.
“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. Because Ukraine does not have enough artillery.”
In a July 8 post on Twitter, Democrat presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slammed the Biden administration’s decision.
“Last year, WH Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the use of cluster bombs a ‘war crime.’ Now, President Biden plans to send them to Ukraine. Stop the ceaseless escalation! It is time for peace,” he wrote.
He wrote in a separate post: “Biden was opposed to cluster bombs In 1982 as well, when he opposed their sale to Israel. What happened to his conscience?
“These munitions scatter bomblets across the landscape. Many fail to explode—until children pick them up later. They have caused thousands of injuries and deaths to civilians,” he wrote in a third post.
On July 8, Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov wrote: “We welcome the decision of the US to provide Ukraine with the new liberation weapons that will significantly help us to de-occupy our territories while saving the lives of the Ukrainian soldiers.
“Our position is simple—we need to liberate our temporarily occupied territories and save the lives of our people.
“For this, we need to inflict losses on the enemy—war criminals, rapists, and looters—who are occupying our territories. The more losses we inflict on them, the more lives of Ukrainian people we will be able to save.”
Mr. Reznikov promised that while Ukraine will use the cluster weapons, it will continue to “strictly comply” with all international humanitarian conventions that Kyiv has signed and ratified.
He pointed out that Russia has been “indiscriminately” using cluster munitions since day one of the ongoing conflict. In February and March 2022, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, was “relentlessly bombarded” by Russian forces with cluster munitions, he said.
Mr. Reznikov vowed to use cluster munitions only for “de-occupation” and not in any “officially recognized territory of Russia.” He also said that these weapons won’t be used in urban areas.
A strict record of the use of the munitions will be maintained, he said, adding that once the de-occupation is achieved, Ukraine will prioritize the clean-up of unexploded cluster munitions according to those records.
Cluster Munitions Threat
A major concern regarding cluster munitions is that once they are launched, not all the bomblets explode immediately. Many can end up embedded in the region, only to explode later.
In August 2022, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor released a report stating that 97 percent of all cluster munition casualties are “after-action” civilians. In surveys in which the ages of victims were registered, 66 percent of those victims were children.
A July 6 report by Human Rights Watch stated that Ukrainian and Russian forces have both used cluster munitions in the ongoing war, leading to the deaths and serious injuries of civilians.
“Cluster munitions used by Russia and Ukraine are harming civilians now and will leave bomblets behind that will continue to do so for many years,” the organization stated.
“Both sides should immediately stop using cluster munitions and not seek to obtain more of these indiscriminate weapons. The US should not transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine.”