American officials said that the decision to aid Ukraine with cluster munitions had been discussed and consulted thoroughly to help Kyiv solve the shortage of ammunition supplies.
The White House and the Pentagon confirmed on July 7 that the United States would provide cluster bombs to Ukraine in a new military aid package worth $800 million.
“Today, the Ministry of Defense announced additional support to meet Ukraine’s critical defense and security needs. This package will provide Ukraine with artillery and ammunition systems, including improved ammunition. highly effective and reliable dual-use conventional technology (DPICM),” the Pentagon statement said, referring to another term for cluster bombs.
Senior US officials acknowledged concerns around Washington’s decision but stressed it was necessary to help Ukraine cope with Russia’s military campaign.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the plan to supply cluster bombs to Ukraine was approved after thorough discussion and consultation by the President Joe Biden administration with Congress and allies, as well as based on the actual situation on the Ukrainian battlefield.
He also stressed that Ukraine has a written guarantee that it will use this weapon with caution to minimize the risk to civilians.
What are cluster bombs?
A cluster bomb is a bomb that explodes in the air and releases smaller bombs over a wide area. Small bombs are designed to destroy tanks, equipment and troops, and can hit multiple targets at once.
Cluster bombs are launched using the same artillery weapons that the US and its allies have supplied to Ukraine in the current conflict. The cluster munitions that Washington intends to send to Kiev are based on the conventional 155mm ammunition that has been widely used throughout the Ukrainian battlefield.
In previous conflicts, cluster bombs had a high damage rate. Thousands of smaller unexploded bombs would still exist and could be deadly for decades to come. The last time the US used cluster bombs was during the war in Iraq in 2003, and they decided not to use them again when the battlefield moved into urban areas with a larger population.
On July 6, General Pat Ryder said that the US Department of Defense has “many variants” of this weapon and the ones it is considering supplying to Ukraine will not include older variants, which have a higher rate of unexploded small bombs than 2.35%.
The reason the US gave Ukraine this time
Talking about the decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine, US President Joe Biden said it was a “difficult decision”.
“It was a very difficult decision for me, but I also discussed it with my allies… Ukraine is running out of ammunition,” he explained.
He added that cluster bombs will play a role in a “transition period” until the US can produce more 155mm howitzers. Cluster bombs will be compatible with 155mm howitzers that the US has supplied to Ukraine. This was the weapon that helped Ukraine regain some territory last year.
For more than a year, the United States and its allies have used their stockpiles of ammunition and traditional grenades to aid Ukraine.
The 155mm ammunition can hit targets from 24-32km away, so they are the ammunition of choice when Ukrainian infantry seeks to attack enemy targets from a distance. Ukraine consumes thousands of shells a day during its conflict with Russia.
Yehor Cherniev, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, said earlier this year that Kiev would likely need to fire 7,000-9,000 rounds a day during the counter-offensive. In this case, the ammunition stocks of the US and its allies will be under great pressure.
Cluster bombs allow Ukraine to destroy more targets with less ammunition, said Ryan Brobst, a research analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Since the US hasn’t used them in conflicts since the Iraq war, they still have a large amount of cluster munitions in stock that they can deploy quickly, he said.
In a March letter to the Biden administration, Republicans in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives said Washington could have up to 3 million cluster munitions available to use. They urged the White House to send these munitions to Ukraine to ease pressure on ammunition supplies.
Mr. Brobst emphasized: “Cluster munitions are more effective than single shells because they deal more damage over a larger area. This is very important for Ukraine as it tries to regain positions that Russia is heavily defending.” .
The US deployment of cluster bombs, he said, could solve Ukraine’s ammunition shortage and ease pressure on 155mm ammunition stockpiles in the US and elsewhere.
Russia and other parties speak out
Reacting to the US move, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said that the US decision to grant cluster bombs to Ukraine was an admission of defeat and a desperate attempt to prevent failure.
State Department spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the Biden administration’s decision continues to show its anti-Russian stance and aims to prolong the conflict in Ukraine.
Zakharova commented, Washington’s move shows that Ukraine and its Western allies are “powerless” to change the situation on the battlefield. She affirmed that the use of cluster bombs by Ukraine will have almost no impact on Russia’s special military operation, but will have severe consequences for civilians.
The Russian diplomat noted that the experience of using such ammunition in the Middle East and other conflicts shows that they may not explode for a long time and explode after the hostilities end.
Earlier, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also objected to the US plan to supply cluster bombs and munitions to Ukraine.
“Secretary-General Antonio Guterres supports the Cluster Munition Convention, which was adopted 15 years ago. He wants countries to abide by the terms of that convention,” Secretary-General spokesman Farhan Haq told. media at United Nations headquarters on July 7.
US allies also expressed concern about Washington’s move. “We do not support the use of cluster munitions. Canada is committed to ending the impact of cluster munitions on civilians, especially children,” the Canadian government said in a statement.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also confirmed to the media that London does not support the deployment of cluster bombs. “The UK is a signatory to the convention banning the production and use of cluster munitions,” he said, adding that Britain would continue to support Ukraine but by other means.
The use of cluster bombs in themselves does not violate international law, but using them against civilians is illegal. In any attack, determining a war crime requires seeing if the target is legitimate and whether precautions are taken to avoid civilian casualties.
More than 120 countries have signed the convention banning the manufacture, use, transportation, or possession of this weapon. However, the United States, Russia, and Ukraine have not signed.