US Democrats have expressed their opposition to President Joe Biden’s decision to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine, citing concerns about the potential harm to civilians. Several House Democrats, including Representative Chrissy Houlahan from Pennsylvania, criticized the move, stating that it could compromise America’s perceived moral high ground. Houlahan, an Air Force veteran and co-chair for a congressional caucus on unexploded ordnance, emphasized the importance of victory for Ukraine while highlighting the need to uphold American values and democracy.
Cluster bombs are explosive weapons that disperse smaller submunitions over a target area, often used against infantry and lightly armored vehicles. However, these bombs can leave behind undetonated duds, posing risks to civilians for decades. More than 120 nations, including most NATO members, have banned cluster munitions due to these concerns.
Although the United States has not joined the international Convention on Cluster Munitions, the country passed legislation in 2009 that restricted the exports of cluster bombs with a dud rate higher than 1%. This effectively prohibited foreign transfers of the weapon, but the White House retains the ability to waive this restriction. During a Pentagon briefing, press secretary Patrick Ryder assured that the military would carefully select the type of munitions to send and claimed that older variants with higher dud rates would not be included.
Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts raised doubts about providing cluster weapons to Ukraine, highlighting the potential harm they can cause to civilians long after a conflict ends. McGovern noted that while the US, Russia, and Ukraine have not signed the cluster bomb treaty, many US allies have already banned these munitions.
In response to these concerns, Democrats Ilhan Omar and Sara Jacobs announced their intent to introduce legislation that would impose a complete ban on cluster bomb transfers as part of foreign military assistance. Jacobs argued that these weapons would hinder Ukraine’s economic rebuilding and recovery, which are crucial for a prosperous nation and the maintenance of anti-corruption efforts.
Although acknowledging the risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan defended the decision, stating that the US had postponed it for as long as possible. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl did not disclose the exact number of cluster bombs to be provided to Ukraine but mentioned that there are “hundreds of thousands” in US stockpiles.
The controversy surrounding the supply of cluster munitions to Ukraine highlights the tensions between military assistance and potential civilian harm. While the US government contends with these concerns, Democrats are pushing for a ban on these weapons to safeguard civilians and promote democratic values. The decision to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine remains a divisive issue with implications for both domestic and international politics.