Ukrainian officials told The Washington Post on Thursday that Ukrainian forces have started firing US-provided cluster munitions at Russian soldiers in southeastern Ukraine, which was later confirmed by the White House.
Last year, the White House called the use of cluster bombs in Ukraine a “potential war crime,” but President Biden signed off on the delivery of the civilian-killing munitions earlier this month.
Cluster bombs are so hazardous to civilians because they spread small submunitions, or bomblets, over large areas. Submunitions that don’t explode immediately on impact can kill or maim civilians for decades to come, as they have in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, where the US dropped hundreds of millions of bomblets during the Vietnam War.
According to the Post, by sending the bombs to Ukraine, President Biden bypassed US law that prohibits the production, use, or transfer of cluster munitions with a “dud rate” of more than 1%. The dud rate refers to the percentage of bomblets that don’t explode.
The Pentagon has claimed that the munitions they are sending have a dud rate of 2.35%, but The New York Times reported the rate will likely be 14%. The US has given Ukraine dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICMs) in the form of 155mm artillery shells, which are packed with 72 bomblets.
The Post report said that Biden bypassed the law by using a rare provision of the Foreign Assistance Act that allows the US to provide weapons regardless of export controls if the president determines doing so is a vital national security interest. But continuing to fuel a proxy war against the world’s largest nuclear-armed state is a huge risk to US national security.
Biden administration officials have defended the decision to send cluster bombs by saying the US and Ukraine are running out of other types of ammunition. They have also accused Russia of using cluster bombs in the war.
Human Rights Watch said in May that there were “hundreds” of documented or alleged uses of cluster bombs by both sides in the conflict. But the US provision of cluster bombs will make the use of the weapon much more widespread as the Pentagon said it will provide hundreds of thousands of shells. A Ukrainian official told the Post that they are firing cluster munitions at Russian troop positions in an attempt to break up Russia’s trenches.
Russia has claimed it hasn’t used cluster bombs in its war in Ukraine but is warning it will respond in kind. “Russia has a sufficient reserve of various kinds of cluster munitions, various kinds. So far we have not done it, we have not used them,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday. “But of course, if they are used against us, we reserve the right to tit-for-tat actions.”
Due to their indiscriminate nature, over 100 countries have banned cluster bombs, including many US NATO allies. But the US, Ukraine, and Russia are not party to the treaty, known as the Convention on Cluster Munitions.