Amid objections from human rights organizations and key allies, the Biden administration announced its plan to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine. President Biden had said that the United States would deliver these weapons from its large stockpile to address Ukraine’s shortage of conventional artillery shells, a crucial tool in the ongoing static warfare in eastern and southern Ukraine.
The use of cluster munitions has been a topic of controversy due to the high failure rate of unexploded bomblets. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, up to 40% of cluster munitions can fail to explode, posing significant risks to civilians, even long after the initial conflict. Despite concerns, U.S. officials assert that the supplied munitions to Ukraine will have a “dud rate” of fewer than 3 per cent, resulting in fewer unexploded bombs that could harm civilians.
What are cluster munitions?
Cluster munitions, also known as cluster bombs, are canisters carrying numerous smaller bomblets or submunitions. These canisters can be deployed through aircraft, missiles, artillery, naval guns, or rocket launchers. When deployed, the canisters open at a designated height, causing the bomblets to disperse over a wide area. These submunitions are then fused to explode closer to or upon impact, with the intention of taking out armored vehicles like tanks or harming enemy troops.
Why are cluster munitions more controversial than other bombs?
The widespread use of cluster munitions has sparked global controversy, as the dispersion of bomblets poses significant risks to non-combatants in affected areas. Moreover, the high rate of munitions failure has left unexploded bomblets dormant in regions like Laos and Vietnam, even 50 years after their deployment, presenting ongoing risks to civilian populations.
The Cluster Munition Coalition, an activist group advocating for a total ban on these weapons, has been working to raise awareness about the dangers posed by cluster munitions and push for their elimination worldwide.
The Biden administration’s decision to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine raises ethical and humanitarian concerns. While the U.S. defense officials claim a low “dud rate” of 2.35% or lower for the munitions destined for Ukraine, the move remains contentious due to the potential risks posed to civilians and the ongoing debates surrounding cluster munitions on the global stage.