US Sends Cluster Munitions to Ukraine: Controversial Decision

US Approves Shipment of Cluster Munitions to Ukraine After Extensive Debate

Controversial Decision Made to Support Ukraine’s Counteroffensive Efforts

The United States has officially confirmed its decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine as part of a new military aid package, following months of internal deliberation within the Biden administration. The move has generated significant debate, considering that over 100 countries, including key US allies, have banned these weapons due to their indiscriminate and long-lasting harm.

Difficult Decision Made After Careful Consideration

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan addressed the media, acknowledging the complexity of the decision to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions. He emphasized the thorough assessment conducted by the national security team, which considered the potential risks to civilians. After consultations with allies, partners, and members of Congress, President Biden ultimately approved the transfer, citing Ukraine’s urgent need for ammunition in its ongoing counteroffensive against Russia.

Cluster Munitions: A Controversial Weapon

Cluster munitions are weapons that disperse numerous submunitions, or “bomblets,” over wide areas. These submunitions often fail to detonate on impact, posing a long-term threat to civilians, akin to landmines. The Convention on Cluster Munitions has banned these weapons, with over 100 countries, including the UK, France, and Germany, among the signatories. However, both the US and Ukraine have not ratified the convention.

Support and Criticism of the Decision

While Ukraine has received progressively more advanced weaponry from the US throughout the conflict, the decision to send cluster munitions marks a significant escalation. President Biden acknowledged the difficulty of the choice, noting discussions with allies and members of Congress. However, human rights advocates, including Human Rights Watch, have expressed strong condemnation, emphasizing the potential long-term suffering and the erosion of international norms against the use of cluster munitions.

Assurances and Restrictions

Dr. Colin Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, clarified that Ukraine provided written assurances that they would not deploy cluster munitions in civilian-populated urban areas. They also pledged to exercise careful control over the use of these weapons. The US Department of Defense stated that the munitions provided would be compatible with the 155 mm howitzers already supplied to Ukraine, which have played a crucial role in the country’s territorial gains over the past year.

Overruling Statutory Restrictions

To facilitate the transfer of cluster munitions, President Biden will invoke section 614 of the Foreign Assistance Act, overriding statutory restrictions imposed by Congress. These restrictions concern munitions with a dud rate greater than one percent. The US munitions expected to be sent to Ukraine may have a dud rate of up to 2.35%, which the Pentagon claims was demonstrated through comprehensive tests conducted between 1998 and 2020.

Debate Surrounding the Decision

Initially hesitant due to the widespread international ban on cluster munitions, President Biden reconsidered the request as battlefield conditions in Ukraine evolved. The Pentagon recommended providing the munitions on a temporary basis until non-cluster alternatives could be resupplied. The sustainability of Ukraine’s counteroffensive efforts, particularly the significant artillery ammunition expenditure, remains uncertain without the inclusion of cluster munitions, according to military analysts and officials.

Reactions from Russia and the International Community

Russia’s Ambassador to Belarus, Boris Gryzlov, characterized the US decision as an act of desperation, accusing the West of attempting to revive Ukraine’s stalled counteroffensive. Other countries, such as Germany, which is a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, have refrained from commenting on the US decision but reaffirmed their commitment to the ban.


The decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine represents a significant shift in the US approach to the conflict. While acknowledging the risks involved, President Biden has chosen to provide support to Ukraine’s efforts. The use of cluster munitions has raised concerns from human rights advocates and countries that have banned these weapons. The situation in Ukraine remains dynamic, and the long-term implications of this decision are yet to be fully understood.

James L. Chatman

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