The United States has decided to send Ukraine a cluster munitions package, which will significantly contribute to its counteroffensive efforts against Russia. This decision was not made lightly, as the White House had concerns about the potential risk of civilian harm caused by unexploded ordnance. However, considering Ukraine’s persistent request for these weapons due to an ammunition shortage, the US has chosen to provide the necessary support.
Cluster Munitions: An Essential Arsenal in Ukraine’s Defense
Cluster munitions, a class of weapons that consist of multiple explosive bomblets known as submunitions, have been a topic of contention. More than 100 countries have banned them due to their indiscriminate nature. These munitions can cause substantial collateral damage and pose a threat to civilian populations. Nevertheless, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan clarified during a White House briefing that Ukraine has committed to post-conflict demining efforts, regardless of the United States’ decision to provide the munitions. Sullivan emphasized that Ukraine’s use of cluster munitions would solely serve to defend their own country.
Addressing Concerns and Mitigating Risks
US officials have expressed caution in supplying Ukraine with cluster munitions due to the potential harm they may cause to civilians. The high failure rate, or dud rate, of these weapons leads to unexploded bomblets remaining on the ground for extended periods, posing a long-term danger. However, Sullivan assured reporters that the dud rates of US cluster munitions are significantly lower than those of Russia. Under US law, the transfer of cluster munitions with bomblet failure rates exceeding 1% is prohibited. Nevertheless, President Joe Biden has the authority to bypass this restriction.
Considerations and Precautions
In light of the situation, the Biden administration is considering providing cluster munitions with a failure rate below 2.35%. Defence Department officials have pointed out that Russia has already been employing cluster bombs in Ukraine with even higher failure rates. While a United Nations investigation has suggested that Ukraine may have also used them, the country has denied such allegations.
Artillery Shells and Additional Aid
Reports from US media indicate that officials are planning to send artillery shells to Ukraine, each containing 88 separate bomblets. These shells would be launched from Howitzer artillery weapons already in use by the Ukrainian army. Additionally, the aid package includes Bradley and Stryker fighting vehicles, air defense missiles, and anti-mine equipment.
International Concerns and Humanitarian Impact
Human rights organizations have called on both Russia and Ukraine to refrain from using cluster munitions, and they have urged the United States not to supply them. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a recent statement, emphasized the dangers posed by cluster bombs. The widespread scattering of small bomblets over a large area often leads to delayed explosions, resulting in casualties and injuries even years later.
Weighing the Costs and Benefits
Some US lawmakers have voiced their concerns to the Biden administration, urging them not to provide these weapons. They argue that the potential humanitarian costs outweigh the benefits on the battlefield. However, during a congressional hearing last month, Defence Department official Laura Cooper stated that military analysts found cluster bombs to be valuable, especially when facing entrenched Russian positions.
The new weapons package, valued at $800 million (£626.5m), reflects the United States’ commitment to supporting Ukraine’s defense and counteroffensive efforts against Russia.