US makes "difficult decision" on sending controversial cluster bombs to Ukraine

Washington DC - President Joe Biden has made the "difficult" decision to deliver cluster munitions to Ukraine after consultation with "allies and partners," his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (l.) spoke about President Joe Biden's decision to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine during a briefing at the White House on Friday.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (l.) spoke about President Joe Biden's decision to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine during a briefing at the White House on Friday.  © Collage: REUTERS

Biden on Friday said sending cluster bombs to Ukraine was a "difficult decision" but Ukraine needed them as it was running out of ammunition in its war against the Russian invasion.

"It was a very difficult decision on my part. And by the way, I discussed this with our allies," Biden told CNN. "The Ukrainians are running out of ammunition."

"We will not leave Ukraine defenceless," Sullivan furthered, as he explained US motives to supply more arms to Kyiv.

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Ukraine had asked for cluster bombs, and was committed to demining efforts in the future, Sullivan said. He added that demining would be necessary whether the US supplied cluster bombs or not, because Russia has been using cluster bombs since the start of the invasion in February last year.

"We recognize that cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance, this is why we deferred the decision as long as we could," he said.

Cluster munitions are missiles and bombs that burst in the air over the target, scattering or releasing many small explosive devices known as submunitions.

Critics say a significant percentage of the explosive devices are duds that do not detonate but remain on site as dangerous unexploded ordnance, often killing civilians.

What are cluster bombs and what do they mean for Ukraine?

Deminers at the site of a reported cluster munition attack in a residential area in northern Kharkiv, Ukraine, last August.
Deminers at the site of a reported cluster munition attack in a residential area in northern Kharkiv, Ukraine, last August.  © SERGEY BOBOK / AFP

Kyiv has been asking for cluster munitions for some time to fend off Russia's invasion. The cluster munitions are part of a new military aid package for Ukraine worth $800 million.

Most European Union and NATO countries have signed a treaty to ban cluster munitions, known as the Oslo Convention. The US is not a signatory to the treaty. The convention, signed by over 100 states, "prohibits all use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions," according to its official website.

Amid earlier reports that the US had made its decision, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva earlier condemned the plan.

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"Cluster munition scatter small bomblets over a wide area," said Marta Hurtado, OHCHR spokeswomen. "They kill and maim people years later after the end of a conflict."

Sullivan defended the US decision, saying that the cluster munitions to be supplied to Ukraine would have a "dud rate" far below that of the Russian weapons, meaning they would be less likely to cause harm to civilians after the conflict.

He stressed that Ukraine was using the cluster munitions for defense purposes only, "to defend its sovereign territory." He added that Kyiv had assured the US that the projectiles would not be used in densely populated urban areas and that it would record where the munitions were being used.

The Pentagon did not disclose further details on when the deliveries would happen, or on the quantity of the deliveries.

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday thanked Biden on Twitter for the "much-needed" defense package and the "decisive steps."

He said the "expansion of Ukraine's defense capabilities will provide new tools for the de-occupation of our land and bringing peace closer."

Cover photo: Collage: REUTERS

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