The Biden administration has given the green light to provide a new $800 million weapons package to Ukraine, including highly controversial cluster munitions. Contrary to the administration’s prior denunciation of such weapons, this move has drawn criticism from both international allies and domestic voices. Among these critics is Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who took aim at President Biden’s contentious decision.
Cluster bombs, also known as cluster munitions, are formidable weapons designed to carpet a large area with smaller explosives or “bomblets.” Due to their imprecise nature and high risk of civilian casualties, these weapons have drawn international condemnation, leading to a convention prohibiting their use, stockpiling, and transfer. Despite the broad consensus against indiscriminate weapons, the United States, Ukraine, and Russia have refrained from joining the convention.
RFK Jr. blasts Biden for sending cluster bombs to Ukraine; White House previously said use of controversial munitions would be a war crime https://t.co/iM1Sp4nSn1
— TheBlaze (@theblaze) July 10, 2023
In his critique of the administration’s decision, Kennedy Jr. underscored the risk these munitions pose to civilians. “Cluster bombs are munitions so horrific for civilians that more than a hundred nations have signed an international treaty banning them,” RFK Jr. wrote on Twitter. “These munitions scatter bomblets across the landscape. Many fail to explode — until children pick them up later.”
Cluster bombs are munitions so horrific for civilians that more than a hundred nations have signed an international treaty banning them. Now the Biden administration is preparing to send them to Ukraine.https://t.co/Ck2gSm0SOj
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) July 7, 2023
Considering Biden’s previous stance, the decision to supply Ukraine with these munitions is even more controversial. Back in 1982, then-Senator Biden opposed the use of cluster bombs by Israel in its invasion of Lebanon. More recently, in 2022, the Biden administration declared that Russia’s use of cluster bombs could potentially be considered a war crime.
These inconsistencies have raised eyebrows at home and abroad. For instance, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak responded to Biden’s decision with caution, saying, “The U.K. is signatory to a convention which prohibits the production or use of cluster munitions and discourages their use.” Similarly, Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles stated emphatically, “No to cluster bombs and yes to the legitimate defense of Ukraine, which we understand should not be carried out with cluster bombs.”
While some defend the decision to send cluster munitions as a necessary measure to help Ukraine defend its territory, the precedent it sets and the potential fallout it may cause cannot be ignored. “The U.S. government should not be providing cluster munitions to any country due to the foreseeable and lasting harm to civilians from these weapons,” said Mary Wareham, acting arms director at Human Rights Watch.
In a time when the United States strives to reaffirm its role as a leader in upholding international law and humanitarian standards, such a move is a step back. As Kennedy Jr. said, “It would be nice to see our president put as much energy into talks as he does into sending weapons.” Given the global stakes, it is a sentiment that must be seriously considered.
While the Biden administration may view the provision of cluster bombs as a “necessary evil” in Ukraine’s defense strategy, it opens Pandora’s box of ethical and humanitarian concerns. Moreover, it undermines America’s moral authority and leadership on the international stage. Now, more than ever, diplomacy and a commitment to humanitarian principles should be at the forefront of our approach to global conflict and war.