Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday defended the Biden administration’s decision to arm Ukraine with widely-banned cluster munitions, which have a devastating impact on civilians.
The US is providing Ukraine with cluster munitions in the form of 155mm artillery shells. Blinken said without the cluster bombs, Ukraine would be “defenseless” because the US and NATO are running out of regular ammunition.
“The stockpiles around the world and in Ukraine of the unitary munitions — not the cluster munitions — were running low, about to be depleted,” Blinken said in an interview on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius. “If we didn’t do it, we don’t do it, then they will run out of ammunition. If they run out of ammunition, they will be defenseless.”
Blinken’s comments are a candid admission that the US and NATO policy of backing Ukraine against Russia might not be sustainable. He claimed that cluster munitions will “fill the gap” while the US and its allies ramp up the production of other artillery ammunition.
Cluster munitions spread bomblets over a large area, many of which might not explode, making them a huge hazard for civilians who may come across them in the future. Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos are still dealing with cluster bomblets the US dropped on the three nations during the Vietnam War decades later.
When it was pointed out to Blinken that Ukraine would be dealing with the impact of cluster munitions for as long as Southeast Asia, he claimed it was “already the case” because Russia has used them. Ukraine has used cluster munitions in the war as well and killed at least eight civilians with the weapons last year, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW has also compiled evidence of Russia’s use of cluster bombs in Ukraine, although Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu claimed Tuesday that Russian forces have not used them. “Realizing the threat that such ammunition poses to the civilian population, Russia has refrained from using them in the special operation,” Shoigu said.
He made the claim when warning that Russia will start using cluster munitions in response to the US providing them to Ukraine. “If the United States supplies cluster munitions to Ukraine, the Russian armed forces will be forced to use similar weapons against the Ukrainian armed forces as a response. It should be noted that Russia has cluster munitions in service, so to speak, for all occasions,” Shoigu said.
Over 100 nations have signed a treaty banning cluster munitions due to the harm they cause civilians, including most NATO countries. But the US, Ukraine, and Russia are not signatories.