Biden White House Approves Controversial Cluster Bombs for Ukraine

They launch “bomblets” into the air, which may explode at a later time and cause additional casualties.


More than 120 nations have ratified a convention that bans the use, manufacture, transfer, and stockpiling of these weapons because they pose such a threat to humanity.

The Biden administration, whose representative to the UN has condemned the weapons, allowed the withdrawal of American cluster bombs from Ukraine on Friday, arguing that the troubled European country had to fight fire with fire.

Jake Sullivan, the White House national security advisor, told reporters on Friday, “We will not leave Ukraine unprotected during any stage of this fight, period. For months, Ukraine has been appealing for the weapons.

Jake Sullivan

Sullivan said that Russia has been deploying cluster bombs against Ukraine since the invasion more than 16 months ago. “I’m not making an argument that if they do it, we’ll do it,” Sullivan said. But the weaponry is essential, he said, as Ukraine conducts a crucial counteroffensive this summer to defend itself and reclaim the land that Russia has taken.

On Friday, a number of Democratic members of Congress condemned the administration’s choice.

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“I am firmly committed to assisting Ukraine in resisting Russia’s horrific war of aggression. However, cluster munitions won’t help, according to a statement from Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Jim McGovern. They are indiscriminate weapons that release hundreds of bomblets that have a long range and can damage, maim, and kill civilians long after a fight has ended.

Leading Republicans, however, have been urging the government to give “dual-purpose improved conventional munitions”—which are what cluster bombs are—for months.

“Your administration’s unwillingness to give Ukraine the appropriate kind and quantity of long-range firepower and maneuver capability continues to deeply disappoint us.” Republicans Michael McCaul of Texas, Mike Rodgers of Kentucky, James Risch of Idaho, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi wrote to Biden in March, urging him to support Ukraine’s efforts to fend off Russia.

According to Sullivan, Ukraine’s supply of conventional, unitary bombs is running low, and even with increased U.S. manufacturing, the nation needs a “bridge” of cluster munitions to continue fighting.

He accepted the possibility that civilian casualties could follow from the bombs, possibly decades after the war is over. However, Sullivan argued that the alternative was worse.


According to U.S. authorities, fewer than 3% of the ammunition that will be sent to Ukraine contains unexploded ordnance, meaning that civilians will be less at risk in the future.

According to Sullivan, Ukraine promised to use the weapons in “limited” amounts and would only use them to recover its own territory. Additionally, the nation acknowledged that it will have to demine after the fight is finished due to Russia’s deployment of cluster munitions, according to Sullivan.

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“Ukraine wouldn’t use these weapons in a foreign country. They are motivated to utilize any weapon system they possess in a way that reduces threats to those citizens since they are defending their country and protecting these people.

The Cluster Convention does not have any signatories from the United States, Ukraine, or Russia. The United States ambassador to the UN, Linda Greenfield-Thomas, criticized Russia for using the weapons in March.

Greenfield-Thomas stated during the U.N. General Assembly that “we have seen videos of Russian forces moving exceptionally lethal weaponry into Ukraine, which has no place on the battlefield.” “That includes cluster bombs and vacuum bombs, both of which are against the Geneva Convention.”

“We are aware that using cluster bombs poses a risk of harm to civilians. We postponed the choice as long as we could because of this. But if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian lines, there is also a significant possibility of civilian casualties, he added.

According to Sullivan, the administration debated the choice “for quite some time” and sought advice from allies and members of Congress.

The Pentagon maintains many of the bombs on hand and has prepared them for export because it claims the last significant use of the weapons was during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Cluster Bombs

Next week, Biden will travel to Europe for a number of events, including a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. According to administration officials, the group would talk about its commitment to defending Ukraine as well as how to get beyond Turkey and Hungary’s opposition to Sweden joining the security alliance.

At that summit, Ukraine—which aspires to join NATO—will not be permitted admission, according to Sullivan. The NATO charter would force the other members of the organization to directly defend Ukraine if it were a member, which may intensify the conflict.

United States News & World Report, 2023