Updated Jul 11, 2023, 8:46am EDT
securityNorth America

How the world is responding to the US’s decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine

U.S. Army/2nd Lt. Gabriel Jenko/Handout via REUTERS

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The News

The U.S.’s decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine has sparked a global controversy.

The weapons, designed to scatter as many as hundreds of smaller bomblets over a large area, are banned in much of the world for the risk they pose to civilians, who can be killed or maimed by leftover explosives that fail to immediately detonate upon release, sometimes even years after a war has ended.

Commentators from around the world say that the U.S. — one of the few countries to have a stockpile of cluster munitions — is toeing an ethical line by sending them to Ukraine.

We’ve curated expert analysis and insights on why this is the case.

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  • The Indian newspaper The Hindu’s editorial board argues that U.S. President Joe Biden is drawing a “thin” moral and ethical line by saying his country is helping Ukraine defend itself with the weapons when the consequences of using cluster munitions are similar to war crimes. “The line gets blurred with the decision to send the civilian killer munitions to the battlefield,” the paper notes.
  • The U.K. is among many countries that disagree with Biden’s move. However, in a thread on Twitter, Shashank Joshi, Defense Editor at The Economist, argues that the U.K.’s stance is “hypocritical,” saying that the U.K.‘s major combat exercises have shown it would rely on deliveries of cluster munitions from the U.S. to “break up big enemy formations.”
  • Biden is invoking his national security powers to step around a U.S. law that ordinarily bans exports of cluster munitions with more than a 1% failure rate — a limit designed to restrict the number of unexploded duds that could endanger civilian lives. Sen. Patrick Leahy, one of the statute’s authors, and Sen. Jeff Merkley argue in The Washington Post that the U.S. is “by far the world’s largest donor for the clearance of land mines, cluster munitions, and other unexploded ordnance” and that sending the weapons to Ukraine would “reverse decades of U.S. policy and practice.”
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Room for Disagreement

  • In a thread on Twitter, New York Times columnist and Iraq veteran David French outlined three reasons why sending cluster munitions to Ukraine is a logical move — saying that not only are the risks of civilian casualties at the front ”much lower,” but that Ukraine is already dealing with the existential threat of defending itself from Russia’s use of the lethal weapon. “Russia is using cluster munitions, and if Ukraine is willing to use them on its own soil to repel an existential threat, we should allow them to dip into our stocks. There’s an ammo shortage,” French writes.