Why The U.S. Delivery Of Cluster Bombs Weakens Ukraine's Cause
Though the U.S. and Ukraine haven't signed onto the arms convention banning the dangerous weapon, many of their closest allies have. Thus both Washington and Kyiv are coming under fire for the announcement of new U.S. supplies of cluster bombs.
PARIS — There's nobody who has spoken more pointedly about cluster bombs than Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. He took to Twitter on Sunday to recount how his country has been targeted with thousands of tons of the weapons, dropped by U.S. fighter jets during the Indochina wars of the last century.
It was not only a "painful experience" of the past, but a lasting danger to civilians long after the conflict had ended.
And yet the decision last week by U.S. President Joe Biden to supply cluster bombs to Ukraine was driven by a military imperative: the weakness of Western munitions production, unable to keep up with Ukrainian army's demand in the war against Russia.
But the use of cluster bombs raises a political, even moral issue: these bombs, which scatter other bombs randomly before hitting the ground, are banned by an international arms control convention.
This convention was signed by dozens of states, including most of the Europeans. Admittedly, neither the U.S., nor Ukraine, nor even Russia, have signed it, so Washington is not in breach by deciding to supply Kyiv's army with these weapons. But you can't vote for a ban a weapon and back your main ally delivering them to a country whose cause you support. Hence a great deal of unease in Europe…
Between unease and understanding
In London, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed unusual reservations. He declared that his country would not deliver such weapons to Ukraine. His predecessor, Boris Johnson, took the opportunity to distance himself by unreservedly supporting the American decision.
Lord Rickets, former Security Adviser and former British Ambassador to France, said out loud what many are thinking: "It makes me uncomfortable, I wish it wasn't happening, but I think we can understand why they're doing it."
These are questions that haven't been asked since the beginning of the war.
The same turmoil reigned in Berlin, where German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier ended the debate with a carefully worded qualified acceptance of Washington's decision. In France, a foreign ministry source said it "understood" the choice. But Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles declared that "certain weapons and bombs cannot be delivered under any circumstances."
This mix of reactions show that the subject raises questions that haven't been asked since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Joe Biden in a meeting during the G7 Leaders Summit.
For the past year and a half, Ukraine and its Western allies have been standing up as guardians of international law in the face of a Russia that flouts it. They are trying, not without difficulty, to convince some of the countries in the Global South of the need to support this fight for the rule of law.
But necessity dictates that ammunition shortages outweigh principles. As the German President explains, without ammunition, Ukraine no longer exists; but in the process, the moral force of support for Ukraine's cause is weakened if it uses "dirty weapons," as Russia already does.
People will say that war is dirty, but that's denying 150 years of rules restricting the damage it can cause. Chemical and biological weapons, as well as anti-personnel mines, fall into this category. Cluster bombs fall into this category. So it's a mistake — perhaps unavoidable, but a mistake nonetheless — to resort to them.
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