US is supplying Ukraine with cluster munitions. Why are they so controversial?

Russia-Ukraine War: US President Joe Biden said that it was a "difficult decision," but he was ultimately convinced.

The White House announced that it is sending cluster munitions to Ukraine amid Russia war as part of a new military aid package after months of debate within the Joe Biden administration about whether to provide Kyiv with the controversial weapons that have been banned by over 100 countries including key US allies.

Russia-Ukraine War: The United States announced that it will provide cluster munitions to Ukraine for the first time. (AFP)
Russia-Ukraine War: The United States announced that it will provide cluster munitions to Ukraine for the first time. (AFP)

“I'm not going to stand up here and say it is easy. It's a difficult decision. It's a decision we deferred. It's a decision that required a real hard look at the potential harm to civilians. And when we put all of that together, there was a unanimous recommendation from the national security team, and President Biden ultimately decided, in consultation with allies and partners and in consultation with members of Congress, to move forward on this strategy,” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

What Joe Biden said on the US decision to send cluster munitions?
US President Joe Biden said that it was a "difficult decision," but he was ultimately convinced as Kyiv needed the ammunition to support its ongoing counteroffensive against Russia.

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“It was a very difficult decision on my part. And by the way, I discussed this with our allies, I discussed this with our friends up on the Hill. The Ukrainians are running out of ammunition,” Joe Biden told CNN.

What are cluster munitions?
The cluster munitions are compatible with the 155 mm howitzers that the US is providing Ukraine. Joe Biden said that the cluster munitions were being used as a "transition period" until the US is capable to produce more 155 mm artillery.

“This is a war relating to munitions. And they're running out of that ammunition, and we're low on it. And so, what I finally did, I took the recommendation of the Defence Department to - not permanently - but to allow for this transition period, while we get more 155 weapons, these shells, for the Ukrainians,” Joe Biden said.

Cluster munitions- also called cluster bombs-are canisters that carry tens to hundreds of smaller bomblets or submunitions. The canisters can be dropped from aircraft, launched from missiles or fired from artillery.

Why are cluster munitions banned?
Cluster munitions have been banned by more than 100 nations, including the UK, France, and Germany. As the bomblets fall over a wide area, they can endanger non-combatants. Somewhere between 10% to 40% of the munitions fail, the International committee of the Red Cross noted, posing danger even years or decades later.

“Cluster munitions remain one of the world’s most treacherous weapons. They kill and maim indiscriminately and cause widespread human suffering,” Gilles Carbonnier, vice president of the International Committee of the Red Cross earlier said, adding, “Any use of cluster munitions, anywhere, by anyone, must be condemned."

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