Possibility of US equipping Ukraine with cluster bombs sparks controversy

WASINGTON: In a move that has sparked controversy, the United States has decided to supply Ukraine with cluster munitions as part of a new military aid package worth up to $800 million, as reported by ABC News. This decision comes amid Ukraine’s ongoing conflict with Russia, as the country strives to reclaim territory seized by Russian forces.

Cluster munitions, also known as “cluster bombs”, are weapons that scatter smaller, explosive submunitions over a large area when fired. These submunitions often malfunction and fail to explode, posing a long-term risk as they can remain on the ground for years and detonate later if disturbed or mishandled. According to a 2010 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, between 10% and 40% of cluster munitions fail to explode on impact. This failure rate has led to concerns over the potential harm to civilians, as these unexploded submunitions can cause injury or death if encountered by unsuspecting individuals.

Despite these concerns, the U.S. administration has defended its decision. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordinance is recognised, but there is also a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory. President Joe Biden also defended the action as necessary, stating that Ukraine is “running out of ammunition”.

However, the use of cluster munitions is not without international controversy. As Forbes reports, a 2008 treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, banned the production, use, and stockpiling of cluster munitions in 108 countries due to the potential harm they can cause to civilians. Notably, the U.S., Ukraine, and Russia have not signed this treaty.

The U.S. Defense Department has supported the use of cluster munitions, suggesting they are “legitimate weapons with clear military utility”. However, critics, including U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, have voiced opposition to their use. Guterres supports the 2008 treaty and is against the use of cluster munitions.

The situation in Ukraine is complex and fraught with danger for civilians. The use of cluster munitions in the conflict has already resulted in civilian casualties, including an April 2022 strike on a Ukrainian train station that killed at least 50 people and injured about 300 others. As the conflict continues, the decision to supply Ukraine with cluster munitions is likely to remain a contentious issue.

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