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The Biden administration announced on Friday the latest weapons package to Ukraine – said to be worth $800 million and would include cluster munitions. However, Biden and his administration have previously been overwhelmingly against cluster bombs, including declaring last year that the use of the controversial munitions would be a war crime.
What are cluster bombs?
Cluster bombs, or cluster munitions, are weapons fired from land, air, or sea that release numerous smaller submunitions that are often called "bomblets." A single cluster bomb carrier can contain hundreds of submunitions to ensure that a large area can be blanketed with explosives.
However, cluster bombs are not as precise as other weapons and can strike non-military targets.
Also, unexploded bomblets can pose a threat to civilians even years after the cluster bomb was used. The International Committee of the Red Cross notes that as much as 40% of cluster munitions fail to detonate, which is called the "dud rate."
There are 123 countries who have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the stockpiling, production, and transfer of the controversial weapon. However, the United States, Ukraine, and Russia have not joined the convention.
Human Rights Watch states, "Regardless, the use of cluster munitions in areas with civilians makes an attack indiscriminate in violation of international humanitarian law, and possibly a war crime."
Cluster munitions were first used in World War II.
Citing the Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor, CBS News reported that "of 141 casualties from cluster bomb remnants, 97% were civilians, and two-thirds of those were children."
Biden sends controversial munitions to Ukraine
On Friday, the Pentagon announced that President Joe Biden had authorized another weapons package – the 42nd drawdown of equipment from Department of Defense inventories for Ukraine since August 2021. The package includes 155mm DPICMs – which stands for dual-purpose improved conventional munitions.
First, Russia has been using cluster munitions indiscriminately since the start of this war in order to attack Ukraine. By contrast, Ukraine is seeking DPICM rounds in order to defend its own sovereign territory.
Second, Russia has been using cluster munitions since the start of this war to attack Ukraine. Russia has been using cluster munitions with high dud or failure rates of between 30 and 40 percent. In this environment, Ukraine has been requesting cluster munitions in order to defend its own sovereign territory. The cluster munitions that we would provide have dud rates far below what Russia is doing — is providing — not higher than 2.5 percent.
And third, we are closely coordinating with Ukraine, as it has requested these munitions. Ukraine is committed to post-conflict de-mining efforts to mitigate any potential harm to civilians. And this will be necessary regardless of whether the United States provides these munitions or not because of Russia’s widespread use of cluster munitions. We will have to continue to assist Ukraine with de-mining efforts no matter what, given the significant use of cluster munitions already perpetrated by Russia.
Biden gave an interview with CNN on Friday. He defended sending cluster bombs to Ukraine, and admitted that the United States military is low on 155mm artillery.
"This is a war relating to munitions. And they’re running out of that ammunition, and we’re low on it," Biden told Fareed Zakaria. "And so, what I finally did, I took the recommendation of the Defense Department to – not permanently – but to allow for this transition period, while we get more 155 weapons, these shells, for the Ukrainians."
"They’re trying to get through those trenches and stop those tanks from rolling. But it was not an easy decision," Biden claimed. "We’re not signatories to that agreement, but it took me a while to be convinced to do it."
Biden continued, "But the main thing is they either have the weapons to stop the Russians now – keep them from stopping the Ukrainian offensive through these areas – or they don’t. And I think they needed them."
Reaction to Biden sending cluster munitions to Ukraine
Mary Wareham, acting arms director at Human Rights Watch, said, "The U.S. government should not be providing cluster munitions to any country due to the foreseeable and lasting harm to civilians from these weapons. Transferring cluster munitions disregards the substantial danger they pose to civilians and undermines the global effort to ban them."
The U.K. and Spain have come out against Biden shipping cluster munition to Ukraine.
Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles told reporters on Saturday, "Spain, based on the firm commitment it has with Ukraine, also has a firm commitment that certain weapons and bombs cannot be delivered under any circumstances. No to cluster bombs and yes to the legitimate defense of Ukraine, which we understand should not be carried out with cluster bombs."
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared, "We will continue to do our part to support Ukraine against Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion, but we’ve done that by providing heavy battle tanks and most recently long-range weapons, and hopefully all countries can continue to support Ukraine."
Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. blasted Biden for sending cluster bombs to Ukraine.
"Cluster bombs are munitions so horrific for civilians that more than a hundred nations have signed an international treaty banning them," RFK Jr. wrote on Twitter. "Now the Biden administration is preparing to send them to Ukraine."
"These munitions scatter bomblets across the landscape. Many fail to explode — until children pick them up later," he added. "They have caused thousands of injuries and deaths to civilians."
RFK Jr. continued to rip Biden, "In February 2021, President Biden promised us 'diplomacy is back.' But now the WH rejects talks to end the war in Ukraine + sends cluster bombs instead. It would be nice to see our president put as much energy into talks as he does into sending weapons."
He explained, "Cluster bombs are supposed to be used as a weapon of last resort. But we were told Russia is divided + Ukraine is winning the war. Why not use the opportunity to propose a favorable peace?"
Kennedy Jr. noted, "Biden seems to be saying we’re sending cluster bombs to Ukraine because we’re running out of other munitions. Looks like a pretext for even more military spending to me. The time has come to offer diplomatic alternatives to war + bring both sides to negotiating table."
What did the Biden administration previously say about cluster bombs?
RFK Jr. pointed out that Biden was against cluster munitions in 1982.
The Washington Post reported:
The backdrop was similar to the one back in the early 1980s, when Sen. Biden and others confronted ethical questions about cluster munitions. Amid reports that Israel had used cluster bombs in its invasion of Lebanon, some Democrats went so far as to push for cutting off aid to Israel.
Amid reports that Israel had used cluster bombs in its invasion of Lebanon, some Democrats went so far as to push for cutting off aid to Israel.
According to a contemporary UPI report, Biden said that if those reports were accurate, then Israel was clearly in violation. He said the United States should respond by “cutting off the ability to get access to that kind of weaponry in the future.” But he cautioned against making a “final judgment” and again called for hearings on the subject.
Democrats also expressed such concerns during what the New York Times labeled “a highly emotional confrontation” on Capitol Hill with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in June 1982. Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) highlighted the cluster bomb reports while saying he had “never seen such an angry session with a foreign head of state.”
As recently as last year, the Biden administration declared that Russia using cluster munitions could be a war crime.
In February 2022, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked if Russia using cluster bombs was potentially a war crime.
Psaki proclaimed, "It is — it would be. I don’t have any confirmation of that. We have seen the reports. If that were true, it would potentially be a war crime."
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Paul Sacca is a staff writer for Blaze News.