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Why the US is sending cluster bombs to Ukraine that are prohibited by most countries in the world?

This week, Biden took the controversial decision to provide cluster bombs that today are prohibited by 123 countries. The US, Russia and Ukraine are part of the few countries that have declined to sign the 2008 international treaty against the use of these weapons.

Cluster bombs started to be deployed in WW2, then the US used them extensively during the Vietnam War in the 70s, and they can be launched from planes, artillery and missiles. It is a very damaging weapon as the bomb breaks apart in the air and releases multiple explosive submunitions or “bomblets” across a wide area, sometimes as big as a football pitch, and kills indiscriminately. The bomblets detonate on hitting the ground and anyone in that area is very likely to be killed or seriously injured. Moreover, up to 40% of bomblets fail to detonate immediately, which pose a risk to civilians long after their use.

Regular Russian troops have used cluster munitions since the February invasion in Ukraine, killing many civilians with that. But it is also true that the Ukrainian army has used them since 2014 against pro-Russian forces in the civil war that broke out in the Donbas region. At this moment, Kyiv is under international pressure to achieve victories on its counter offensive, and needs to target entrenched Russian positions to overcome its disadvantage in manpower and artillery.

The US too is feeling pressure but internally, mainly from Republican forces and anti-war left-wing activists, to end the war as quickly as possible.

The consensus is that to achieve that, the Ukrainian army should break Russian lines and get close to Crimea. After that, NATO could force Putin to sign a retreat from the Donbas and in exchange provide autonomy status for the regions that currently Russia claims to be under its control.

A big boost to this plan came two weeks ago, when China for the first time accepted officially that Ukraine could keep Crimea as part of an "acceptable" peace deal with the Russians, and that Beijing would disapprove "in very strong terms" the use of nuclear bombs by Russia in Ukraine.

The Kremlin responded to the US announcement of sending cluster bombs to the Ukrainian front by saying that "this is a sign of weakness from the NATO side that confirms that the counter offensive is going badly". At the same time, many human rights organizations and NATO countries, such as the UK, criticized Biden's decision of sending cluster bombs because of the risks that this will mean for civilians and for making the war more brutal.

However, the argument in favor of Biden's move is that these cluster bombs will be used in areas where there are only Russian trenches and the Russian army has been using these weapons extensively in Ukrainian territory since the full-scale invasion of February 2022. Because of that, and the fact that the objective is to push back the Russians towards Crimea and outside the Donbas to sign a peace deal as quickly as possible, the US government claims that this move has moral support.


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