President Biden’s Decision on Cluster Munitions Raises Concerns Among NATO Allies
President Joe Biden’s decision to provide Ukraine with controversial cluster munitions has raised consternation among NATO allies, some of whom are among the more than a hundred countries who have prohibited them.
Cluster munitions are a specific type of munition that contains tens of submunitions within it that expand when it gets near the target, sending the submunitions over a much more expansive area. Between the wide range of the destruction cluster munitions create, and the frequent dud rate that leaves many unexploded, submunitions can be dangerous for civilians for years after its intended detonation.
NATO Allies Express Opposition
Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom are among the more than 120 states who are a part of the Convention of Cluster Munitions, which went into effect in 2010 and prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Leaders from each country have come out and said they would not be following Biden’s lead in providing the weapon to Ukraine, though they remain committed to helping Kyiv fend off Russian aggression.
“Spain, based on the firm commitment it has with Ukraine, also has a firm commitment that certain weapons and bombs cannot be delivered under any circumstances,” Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said on Saturday. “No to cluster bombs and yes to the legitimate defense of Ukraine, which we understand should not be carried out with cluster bombs,” she said.
The only NATO members not a part of the treaty are Estonia, Finland, Greece, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Turkey, and the United States. Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a part of it either.
Similarly, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Saturday they’d also be maintaining their compliance with the treaty, adding, “We will continue to do our part to support Ukraine against Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion, but we’ve done that by providing heavy battle tanks and most recently long-range weapons, and hopefully all countries can continue to support Ukraine,” while German defense minister Boris Pistorius said on Friday, “Germany has signed the convention, so it is no option for us.”
U.S. officials cited Russia’s use of the weapons — which has a much higher dud rate than the ones the U.S. agreed to provide — in part because Ukraine will have to be de-mined anyway, due to Russia’s use of the munitions.
The U.S. can provide Ukraine with “hundreds of thousands of additional artillery ammunition immediately,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Colin Kahl told reporters on Friday, noting that Ukrainians provided the U.S. with written assurances that “they will not use the rounds in civilian populated urban environments and that they will record where they use these rounds,” which will simplify future defining efforts.
The cluster munitions Russia has been using in Ukraine have a dud rate between 30-40%, according to Kahl, while the munitions the U.S. will provide them will have below a 2.35% dud rate.
He also noted that the administration, which has now provided more than $40 billion in military aid since Russia invaded in February 2022, has given Ukraine $95 million specifically for de-mining, and “We will provide more support to help Ukraine mitigate the impacts of cluster munition use by both sides in this conflict.”
Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan acknowledged the risk unexploded submunitions pose to civilians, which is “why we’ve deferred the decision for as long as we could. But there is also a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians.”
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The president’s decision comes as Ukraine’s highly anticipated counteroffensive has netted some gains.
Biden will travel to Vilnius, Lithuania, this week for key NATO meetings. Since the war began, the alliance approved Finland’s bid to join, while its western neighbor Sweden’s application remains ongoing with objections from Turkey and Hungary.
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