Kiev’s troops are reported to be using controversial cluster munitions against Russian forces, according to a top White House official. John Kirby, the White House National Security Council spokesman, confirmed on Thursday that the US-supplied cluster munitions have already been deployed on the battlefield by Ukraine and are being used “quite effectively” against Russia’s troops. The delivery of these munitions was announced by Washington earlier this month and consists of standard-caliber NATO 155mm rounds known as dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICMs).
President Joe Biden has described the decision to deliver cluster munitions to Ukraine as a temporary measure, claiming that the US and its allies were running short on regular munitions in NATO caliber. However, the use of cluster munitions poses increased risks for civilians. Despite this, the US claims that Ukraine has pledged to use them responsibly and avoid densely populated areas.
The use of controversial munitions by the Ukrainian military is not new. They have a long history of indiscriminately using various types of munitions, including flechette-filled artillery shells and cluster rockets filled with antipersonnel PFM “petal” mines. Cluster munitions are banned in more than 100 countries, but neither Ukraine, the US, nor Russia signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM).
Russia has condemned the decision to supply cluster shells to Ukraine and has promised to retaliate in kind by using its own stockpiles of such munitions. Even the US’s closest allies, including the UK, have criticized Washington’s move, and the UN has raised concerns about the implications for civilians.
The main danger posed by cluster munitions lies in their design. The shells contain multiple bomblets, which open up in the air when fired and spread these submunitions over a large area. Apart from causing immediate indiscriminate damage, these bomblets can also remain active for years, posing a long-term threat to civilians. To deliver the shells to Ukraine, the US had to bypass its own restrictions, as it prohibits the export of weaponry with failure rates of over 1%. The cluster munitions supplied to Kiev reportedly have failure rates of at least 2.35%.
The use of cluster munitions in the Ukrainian conflict raises serious concerns about the safety of civilians in the affected areas. The widespread condemnation of this decision by Russia and even the US’s own allies underscores the controversial nature of supplying such weapons. Despite Ukraine’s pledge to use them responsibly, the unpredictable nature of cluster munitions poses significant risks and underscores the urgent need for diplomatic solutions to de-escalate the conflict and protect civilian lives.