Friday, 7 July 2023 at 20:43, United Kingdom
President Biden agreed to supply Ukraine with controversial cluster munitions for use against Russian forces.
The weapon detonates in the air, releasing smaller “bombs” that spread over a large area.
Opponents say they kill indiscriminately and that some smaller munitions may fail to detonate, posing long-term risks to civilians.
U.S. officials said it would offer cluster bombs with a low “dud rate” to minimize risk.
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Carr said it would only offer products with a failure rate of less than 2.35%.
He said “hundreds of thousands” might be offered, but declined to say how many would initially be offered.
Mr Carr said Russia had been using older cluster munitions since the start of the war, with a dud rate of 30-40 per cent.
Ukraine is said to have pledged in writing not to use them in populated environments, has mapped where they will be used, and is working on post-war cleanup.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jack Sullivan, said the U.S. delayed the decision “as long as possible” because of the risks to civilians.
But he added that “there is also a significant risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks move past Ukrainian positions and occupy more Ukrainian territory” because Russia does not have enough artillery.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO took no position on the issue and “then it’s up to the individual allies to make those decisions”.
However, the United Nations has urged both sides not to use them.
“The use of such munitions should cease immediately and must not be used anywhere,” said Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said cluster munitions “caused a large number of avoidable civilian casualties”.
More than 120 countries have signed the convention banning the use and manufacture of cluster bombs, but the United States, Russia and Ukraine have not.
The U.S. risks the moral high ground — but the weapon could be decisive on the ground
By providing arms, civilians are exposed to clear risks, not necessarily now but in the future. The legacy of unexploded cluster bombs can be seen on former battlefields around the world.
The US also risks losing its moral high ground against Russia by supplying a weapon that is banned by many countries around the world.
So why supply? However, the reality is not in Ukraine’s favour. The handover is a clear signal that the war in Ukraine is not going well.
The so-called spring offensive did not materialize in the spring and looks set to stall in the summer.
Ukraine is rapidly depleting conventional artillery, and supply stocks in the United States and elsewhere are running low. A “supply bridge” is necessary.
The United States has a large idle stockpile of cluster munitions. They can significantly change the situation on the ground and eliminate large numbers of Russian troops.
U.S. officials acknowledged that civilian casualties are a risk, but countered that allowing Russia to occupy Ukrainian land would put more civilians at risk.
These munitions are to be used by Ukraine in occupied Ukrainian territory. The risk to civilians will be borne by Ukraine. Ukraine is responsible for clearing unexploded landmines at the end of the war with the help of the United States.
The announcement is part of the Biden administration’s multimillion-dollar purchase of new weapons designed to insure future conflicts; giving Ukraine the weapons it needs now in case domestic politics change in the next 18 months.
American politics is changing rapidly. Unlimited support for Ukraine cannot be guaranteed.
Oleksandra Ustinova, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, is among those who support the use of such weapons.
She said troops would already have to disable landmines as they retake territory and could capture any unexploded bombs as part of that.
“We have to clear the mines anyway, but it would be nice to have the capability,” she said.
Sky defense analyst Sean Bell said Ukraine had to make a judgment call on the “benefits of these weapons (they could provide a decisive capability in this war) and the risk they would inherit of having to clean them up.”
The last time the United States used the weapon on a large scale was in Iraq in 2003.
However, Human Rights Watch estimates that the US-led coalition also used 1,500 cluster bombs in the first three years of the war in Afghanistan.
The cluster bomb shipment to Ukraine was part of another shipment of weapons and artillery that the United States said brought its total weapons contribution to $41.3 billion.