This time the US has gone too far: the world is speaking out against cluster bombs. From the U.N., the European Union and even Canada, there was almost unanimous opposition to U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to provide cluster bombs to Ukraine.
Russian sources spoke of a “desperate gesture” and the risk of “Armageddon,” while President Zelensky gave assurance that they will not be used outside Ukrainian territory.
This is perhaps the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine that we are witnessing such clear opposition by Western countries against the United States. There’s a general sense that a line has been crossed: one can’t argue for decades that cluster munitions are an inhumane weapon, attempt to ban their production altogether, and then suddenly announce such a move.
President Biden, who made his decision official on Friday, partly overriding the laws of Congress, defended himself against criticism in an interview with CNN: it was a “very difficult” decision, he said, but the Ukrainians are “running out of ammunition” and needed them. U.S. human rights organizations sharply criticized the move.
For their part, the Ukrainians are thankful. Kiev’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov explained that there were “5 key principles” that the Ukrainians had committed to abide by in using such munitions: “1. Ukraine will use these munitions only for the de-occupation of our internationally recognised territories. These munitions will not be used on the officially recognized territory of russia. 2. We will not be using cluster munitions in urban areas (cities) to avoid the risks for the civilian populations – these are our people, they are Ukrainians we have a duty to protect. Cluster munitions will be used only in the fields where there is a concentration of Russian military … 3. Ukraine will keep a strict record of the use of these weapons and the local zones where they will be used. 4. Based on these records, after the de-occupation of our territories and our victory these territories will be prioritized for the purposes of de-mining … 5. We will report to our partners about the use of these munitions, and about their efficiency to ensure the appropriate standard of transparent reporting and control.”
The point, however, is that cluster bombs are highly inaccurate and leave behind unexploded fragments that can remain for years. How can one announce on Twitter, as if it were a routine matter, that they will be used against Russians in occupied territory, when the “occupied territory” is part of Ukraine?
For how many decades will they have to mourn the accidental deaths caused by this type of munitions, which will add to those already caused by the Russian invasion? The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, also spoke out against the use of cluster munitions, without specifically naming the United States.
Among the European states, the first to speak out was Germany. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius assured that his country “has signed the Convention, so it is no option for us” to export such weapons.
Paris also spoke out against Biden’s decision, as did Spain, which confirmed to the media through Defense Minister Margarita Robles that “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.”
The position of the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, was basically the same: London is a “signatory to a convention which prohibits the production or use of cluster munitions and discourages their use.”
From Rome, Defense Minister Crosetto said much the same thing: “Italy has acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits their use, production, transfer and storage,” while pointing out that “the Russians have been using them since the beginning of the war.”
Former Russian president and deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, wrote on Telegram that Biden’s move showed that he was “a sick old man with severe dementia,” or a “dying grandfather” who had “decided to leave gracefully” and so was “provoking nuclear Armageddon and taking half of humanity with him to the next world.”
The Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, said: “Cluster munitions are a desperate gesture. This measure tells the story that the US and its satellites have realized they are powerless. However, they do not want to admit their own failures and the failure of the attempts of Ukrainian forces to conduct an offensive against Russian regions. Hence this latest madness on their part.”