The Biden administration has announced that it will provide cluster bombs to Ukraine, a controversial move to boost the country’s military in its fight against entrenched Russian forces. The decision has sparked criticism from human rights groups and some lawmakers, who say the weapons are indiscriminate and pose a long-term threat to civilians.
Cluster bombs are weapons that break apart in the air and release multiple explosive submunitions or “bomblets” across a wide area. They can be delivered by planes, artillery, and missiles. The bomblets are designed to detonate on hitting the ground and anyone in that area is very likely to be killed or seriously injured. However, many bomblets fail to explode immediately and remain as explosive hazards for years or even decades. According to some data about 40% of bomblets have failed to explode in some recent conflicts.
More than 120 countries have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of weapons. Russia, Ukraine, and the US have all declined to sign the treaty.
The US says it will send thousands of cluster bombs as part of a new military aid package worth $800m (£630m) to Ukraine, which is facing a renewed Russian offensive along its eastern border. The Pentagon argues that the US-provided munitions have a much lower failure rate and that it has obtained assurances from Kyiv to minimize civilian harm and report where they are used.
Human rights groups say that the use of cluster bombs in populated areas is a violation of international humanitarian law and that the US should not be sending more of them to Ukraine, where they have already been used by both sides in the conflict.