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Controversial Cluster Bombs: U.S. Set to Provide Ukraine


[We, the Biden administration, find ourselves at a critical juncture, faced with the urgent decision of whether to supply Ukraine with controversial cluster bombs. The shortage of artillery ammunition, slow counteroffensive, and desperate appeals from Kyiv for more weaponry have forced us to consider this option. General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has acknowledged our ongoing decision-making process regarding the deployment of dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM).

To rally support for cluster munitions, senior administration and defense officials have reached out to Capitol Hill and long-time opponents of these weapons. We aim to convince them of the necessity of cluster bombs on the Ukrainian battlefield and provide assurances regarding their usage. Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer has personally made calls to lawmakers to gauge their stance on the matter, although a final decision has not yet been reached.

According to a leaked intelligence assessment obtained by The Washington Post, the United States has determined that cluster weapons could effectively combat Russian troops and Wagner Group mercenaries. This assessment was made during the brutal battle for the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian forces discovered that Russian troops tended to gather in groups before launching attacks, making them susceptible to cluster munitions. The assessment revealed that one cluster munition could be as lethal as 10 155mm artillery rounds against grouped infantry.

Initially, President Biden expressed opposition to the use of cluster munitions, citing concerns and policy constraints. However, the White House is currently reassessing its position. We recognize the increasing need for cluster munitions to address ammunition shortages and improve the Ukrainian military’s effectiveness. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has withdrawn his objections as we await President Biden’s final decision, while the State Department had historically been against the use of cluster bombs.

One remaining concern for the administration is the optics of supplying cluster munitions. We are aware of the potential backlash from allies and the international community due to the perceived inhumanity and indiscriminate nature of these weapons. However, our military analysts have confirmed the usefulness of DPICMs against Russian positions. The existing congressional restrictions and concerns about allied unity have contributed to the hesitation in providing this capability.

Despite the controversy surrounding cluster munitions, the United States, along with several NATO members, Russia, China, and Ukraine, still maintains a stockpile of these weapons and has not ratified the international convention banning their use, transfer, or production. However, human rights organizations and other governments have criticized the inherent inhumanity and indiscriminate nature of cluster munitions. They have documented the harm caused to civilians and the lingering threat of unexploded bomblets long after conflicts have ended.

It is worth noting that the United States has used cluster munitions in previous conflicts, and Saudi Arabia employed U.S.-supplied cluster munitions in Yemen in 2009. Concerns have been raised about the potential dangers to Ukrainian troops due to the use of these weapons, as seen in the Persian Gulf War when unexploded ordnance halted combat operations.

The Defense Department has yet to confirm if the United States still produces cluster munitions and the extent of available stockpiles. Congress has imposed a moratorium on exporting these weapons, although waivers can be granted by the president. President Trump eliminated a policy stipulation on the failure rate of unexploded bomblets.

As the Biden administration makes its case for cluster munitions, many allies are expected to express token objections, with Spain and Germany being more firmly opposed. In Washington, there is increasing bipartisan support for the use of cluster munitions, even though some lawmakers, such as Representative Jason Crow, have called for further consultation and information on the potential consequences of changing administration policy.

In conclusion, the decision to supply Ukraine with cluster bombs hangs in the balance. The Biden administration acknowledges the challenges and concerns associated with these weapons, but recognizes their potential military efficacy. The final decision will be made with consideration for the humanitarian and strategic implications, as well as the existing congressional restrictions and concerns of our allies.


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