The United States has agreed to send “hundreds of thousands” of cluster munitions to Ukraine as part of an $800 million military aid package. Cluster munitions are highly destructive weapons that can be launched from various platforms, including aircraft and missiles, and they have been used since World War II. However, they are now banned by 123 countries due to their indiscriminate nature and the long-term danger they pose from unexploded bomblets.
The Biden administration initially maintained that international accords and US law prevented the transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine. These weapons can leave behind unexploded bomblets, which can remain dangerous for years and pose a significant risk to civilians. According to a report by the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, 97 percent of cluster munition casualties are civilians, with 66 percent of victims being children.
Despite these concerns, the Biden administration has justified the transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine with three main justifications. Firstly, it claims that Ukraine needs artillery to sustain its offensive and defensive operations, as artillery is crucial in the ongoing conflict. The United States has already provided Ukraine with a substantial amount of artillery rounds, but there are concerns about shortages. The aging stockpile of cluster munitions will serve as a bridge until domestic production can be ramped up.
Secondly, it argues that Russia has been using cluster munitions with high failure rates, far exceeding the rate allowed for US transfers. Russia’s use of cluster munitions has been deemed inhumane by NATO and has been confirmed by a United Nations investigation. However, the report also suggests that Ukraine has used similar munitions received from other countries.
Finally, the Biden administration claims that Ukraine is committed to post-conflict demining efforts to mitigate harm to civilians. The Ukrainian government has provided assurances that it will not use these munitions in civilian areas and will keep a record of their use to facilitate demining efforts. The United States has already invested a significant amount in demining activities in Ukraine.
The transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine is part of an $800 million military assistance package that includes various other weapons and munitions. This aid aims to ensure that the Ukrainian military has sufficient ammunition and equipment for its counteroffensive against Russian forces. Since February 2024, the United States has committed over $41.3 billion in military assistance to Ukraine.
The exact number of cluster munitions being sent to Ukraine and the timeline for their arrival have not been disclosed. However, it is expected that they will be used in the ongoing counteroffensive. The decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine comes after hints from administration and Pentagon officials since spring, indicating a shift in the US stance on this issue.