Ukrainian officials have confirmed their forces have begun firing US-provided cluster munitions at Russian positions in southeastern Ukraine, which has also been validated by the White House.
“U.S.-supplied cluster munitions are in Ukrainian hands and being deployed in the field as part of Kyiv’s battle against Russia,” national security spokesman John Kirby said Thursday, according to Reuters. Kirby has cited the controversial munitions are already having a positive impact in Ukraine’s war effort.
“We have gotten some initial feedback from the Ukrainians, and they’re using them quite effectively,” Kirby told a briefing. Reuters has noted that Ukraine “pledged to use the cluster bombs only to dislodge concentrations of Russian enemy soldiers.”
The pledge came following the Biden administration’s decision to send cluster bombs resulting in some degree of backlash from the press and international human rights groups, given they kill indiscriminately and unexploded bomblets can kill or maim civilians for many years even after a conflict is over.
President Biden had called it a “difficult decision” – given the munitions are banned by over 120 countries; however, neither the US nor Ukraine nor Russia are signatories to the international treaty banning their use.
Col. Oleksandr Bakulin, a Ukrainian commander, told BBC News that his forces need cluster bombs to “inflict maximum damage on enemy infantry,” but he also admitted they would not “solve all our problems on the battlefield.”
Despite the Biden White House prior to the start of the Ukraine war having highlighted the greater likelihood of potential “war crimes” when using cluster bombs, the US administration now maintains the transfer hasn’t damaged America’s “moral authority”. National Security Council spokesman Jake Sullivan pushed back against media criticism as follows in a recent interview:
“Our moral authority and Ukraine’s moral authority in this conflict comes from the fact that we are supporting a country under a brutal, vicious attack by its neighbor with missiles and bombs raining down in its cities, killing its civilians, destroying its schools, its churches, its hospitals,” Sullivan said. “And the idea that providing Ukraine with a weapon in order for them to be able to defend their homeland, protect their civilians, is somehow a challenge to our moral authority — I find questionable.”
But The Washington Post has documented that Biden is having to bypass US laws regulating cluster munitions exports:
The president’s decision bypassed U.S. law prohibiting the production, use, or transfer of cluster munitions with a “dud rate” of more than 1 percent. The dud rate refers to the share of munitions that remain unexploded.
This is one of Israel’s rationales for not supplying Ukraine weapons. Can’t be sure where they’ll end up. https://t.co/Z2fL8b29WO
— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) July 21, 2023
WaPo wrote further: “Biden circumvented the law under a rare provision of the Foreign Assistance Act, which allows the president to provide aid, regardless of arms export restrictions, as long as he determines that doing so is in vital U.S. national security interest.”
The White House has in a fashion typical of US foreign policy crafted a message of the end justifies the means in defending its new cluster munitions for Ukraine policy. This also comes amid worsening ammo shortages among the Western allies, but the Pentagon reportedly has cluster bombs stockpiled in abundance.