The United States is providing cluster bombs to Ukraine, claiming that these bombs have a failure rate of 2.35%. However, a report prepared for Congress suggests that past use of these bombs has resulted in failure rates of 10% to 30%. This is concerning because cluster bombs that fail to explode can pose a risk to civilians for decades.
During a press conference announcing the transfer, Colin Kahl, US undersecretary of defense for policy, defended the decision, comparing the failure rate of US-provided cluster bombs to that of Russian cluster munitions, which allegedly have a failure rate of 30-40%. Kahl expressed concern for the humanitarian circumstances but emphasized the importance of preventing Russia from winning the war in Ukraine.
The issue of failure rates is significant because unexploded cluster bombs can remain a threat even after the war is over. For example, in Laos, which is littered with US cluster munitions from the 1970s, thousands of people have died during peacetime due to accidental explosions. Many countries have banned cluster bombs due to this long-term threat to civilians, but the US, Russia, and Ukraine have not.
Russia has faced criticism for using cluster bombs, particularly in densely populated civilian areas. However, Ukraine claims it will only use cluster bombs against military targets. Experts argue that, against entrenched Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, cluster bombs are an effective substitute for the 155 mm artillery shells that Ukraine is running out of, and that the US cannot manufacture quickly enough to replace.
Past use of the specific munitions that the United States is providing raises concerns about the potential harm to civilians in the aftermath of any battle. An Army study from 2000 indicated a failure rate of up to 14% for similar submunitions. The US military claims it will only select cluster munitions from its stockpile that have been assessed to have a failure rate of 2.35%. However, there is a disconnect between past claims of the weapon’s effectiveness and the actual experience on the ground.
A report from the Congressional Research Service in 2022 highlighted the discrepancy between manufacturers’ claims of a 2 to 5% dud rate and the reported failure rates of 10% to 30% in real-world cleanup operations. Supporters of the decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine argue that it will ultimately save lives by pushing back against Russian forces accused of war crimes. They believe that preventing a Russian occupation will help protect civilians from torture and killings.
In an interview with CNN, President Joe Biden acknowledged that the decision to provide Ukraine with cluster bombs was difficult but necessary. He stated that Ukraine is running out of alternatives, particularly the artillery shells that the United States had previously supplied. Biden characterized the conflict in Ukraine as a war of munitions and emphasized the urgent need for ammunition.
In conclusion, the United States is supplying cluster bombs to Ukraine despite concerns over their failure rates and the long-term risks they pose to civilians. The decision is controversial, with supporters arguing that it is necessary to push back against Russian aggression, while critics worry about the potential harm to innocent civilians. The conflict in Ukraine underscores the complexities and challenges of international warfare and the ethical dilemmas surrounding the use of certain weapons.