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Controversy Surrounds US Plan to Provide Ukraine with Cluster Munitions: Human Rights Groups Raise Concerns

The United States is planning to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions, a controversial weapon system that has been banned by more than 100 countries due to its indiscriminate nature and the danger it poses to civilians. The move has sparked criticism from human rights groups, who argue that the use of cluster munitions in Ukraine will only increase civilian casualties and harm noncombatants.

Ukraine has publicly requested to be supplied with cluster munitions, and several US lawmakers have called for the transfer of stockpiled cluster munitions to the Ukrainian government. Under US arms export rules, cluster munitions can only be exported if they have a failure rate of less than 1% unexploded ordnance.[0] However, this provision can be waived by the US president in exceptional circumstances.[1]

Human Rights Watch has documented cases of Ukrainian cluster munition rocket attacks causing casualties among Ukrainian civilians. In one instance in 2022, Ukrainian cluster munitions killed at least eight civilians in the city of Izium. The United Nations has also conducted an investigation that found evidence of Ukrainian armed forces using cluster munitions in attacks on Izium.

The use of cluster munitions in Ukraine is not limited to one side, as Russian forces have extensively used them as well, resulting in many civilian deaths and injuries. Both countries have been urged to stop using these weapons due to their indiscriminate nature and the foreseeable danger they pose to civilians.[2]

Cluster munitions are surface-to-surface warheads designed to explode and disperse smaller munitions over a wide area.[3] While they can be effective in targeting military installations, the unexploded ordnance left behind poses a significant risk to civilians during and after conflict. Human rights groups argue that the use of cluster munitions should be banned entirely due to the danger they pose to noncombatants.

The decision to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine has divided experts. Some argue that the weapons could provide Ukraine with an advantage in their counteroffensive against Russian forces, while others believe that the risks to civilians outweigh any potential military benefits. There are concerns that cluster munitions will not differentiate between Ukrainian and Russian soldiers, resulting in increased civilian casualties.

The Biden administration is currently considering whether to approve the delivery of cluster munitions to Ukraine. Congress has imposed restrictions on the transfer of cluster munitions if the failure rate exceeds 1%. The administration is reportedly taking into account the dud rate of the cluster munitions being considered, with the Pentagon stating that they have a dud rate of less than 2.35%.[1]

The use of cluster munitions has been a contentious issue, with many countries banning their use and transfer due to the harm they cause to civilians. The United States is not a party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions but has largely stopped using cluster bombs since 2003 and has restrictions on their transfer.[4] The decision to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine has faced pushback from allies who have banned the weapon and concerns about the risk to civilians.

The debate over cluster munitions highlights the complex nature of supplying weapons to conflict zones. While there may be strategic and military considerations, the potential harm to civilians and the long-lasting impact of unexploded ordnance must also be taken into account. The decision on whether to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions ultimately lies with President Joe Biden, who will need to weigh these factors before making a final determination.

0. “Cluster munitions to Ukraine now up to Biden” POLITICO, 6 Jul. 2023, https://www.politico.com/newsletters/national-security-daily/2023/07/06/cluster-munitions-to-ukraine-now-up-to-biden-00104836

1. “U.S. expected to announce cluster munitions in new package for Ukraine” CBS News, 6 Jul. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/u-s-to-announce-cluster-munitions-ukraine/

2. “Ukraine: Civilian Deaths from Cluster Munitions” Human Rights Watch, 6 Jul. 2023, https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/07/06/ukraine-civilian-deaths-cluster-munitions

3. “Ukraine-Russia war latest: US ‘to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine'” The Telegraph, 6 Jul. 2023, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2023/07/06/ukraine-russia-war-latest-news-zaporizhzhia-nuclear-plant/

4. “US thinking about providing Ukraine with cluster munitions, Milley says” Washington Examiner, 30 Jun. 2023, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense-national-security/cluster-munitions-milley