A Moral Quagmire: The US Provision Of Cluster Munitions To Ukraine – OpEd


The Ukraine war continues into its second year, causing devastating consequences and a significant geopolitical shift. While Various states have played their part by siding with either Russia or Ukraine through voting in the UNGA resolutions, some have decided to abstain altogether. The Western World, has stayed on the frontline of providing aid to Ukraine.

In light of the recent events, the US has announced to send cluster bombs to Ukraine as part of a military aid package. This however has sparked a global predicament, perceived by some as a measure necessary for the defense of Ukraine meanwhile to some, it seems like a blatant violation of the International Humanitarian law and non-proliferation.

Ever since its initiation in 2014 the Ukraine war has followed an irregular pattern of escalation and de-escalation over the years. However, the world witnessed a major escalation of the war in 2022 when on February 24 Russian President Vladimir Putin declared to conduct a “special military operation” launching a full-scale invasion of an unprepared Ukraine. The war has continued for more than a year with no clear indication regarding when or how it may end, having fallen into a stalemate position, but that does not take away from its devastating implications. According to Al Jazeera, 9,000 civilian deaths, including more than 500 children have been reported by the UN however the chances of death toll being more than what is reported are high.

Furthermore, the US has provided more than 75b USD worth of assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the war. On July 7, 2023, the US revealed that it was deploying cluster munition to Ukraine as part of a military aid package worth 800m USD. President Biden described it as a “very difficult decision” and gave the reason backing it that “the Ukrainians are running out of ammunition”. However, the announcement has given rise to a global dilemma, on one hand, the delivery of the controversial munitions can be viewed as an important measure for the self- defense of Ukraine in the face of continuous aggression while on the other hand, it has met with strong criticism globally where even the US allies refuse to endorse its decision.

The cluster bombs have long been condemned for their potential of causing harm to the citizens because of the indiscriminatory characteristic of their attack. These are designed to disperse a large number of tiny bomblets that can carry out generalized killings over a wide area. Unexploded submunitions can continue to pose a threat long after the dispute has ended, which

makes the employment of these weapons often result in accidental civilian casualties. Hence, the possibility of causing harm to the civilians is worrisome given the highly populated regions of Ukraine that are affected by the war.

To ensure its non-proliferation, the Convention on Cluster Munitions was signed in 2008, about 123 states, including the US, have signed the convention as of the year 2023. This international treaty accounts for the prohibition of all use, transfer, production, and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Hence, Biden’s decision of delivering cluster bombs to Ukraine was met with immediate criticism by several humanitarian groups as a violation of the humanitarian law. Additionally, US allies including the UK, New Zealand, Canada, and Spain have expressed their opposition to the use of the weapon and have refused to endorse Washington’s decision.

In contrast, considering the ongoing state of war in Ukraine the Biden administration’s decision can be justified by some as an important step necessary to ensure self defense of the country. Germany stated that while it personally would not provide such munitions it understood the reasoning behind the decision made by US. Cluster bombs can be efficient against military targets and used as a means of deterrence when used properly and in compliance with international humanitarian law.

The dilemma surrounding the decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine is the subject of a complex and multifaceted debate. Even though it is crucial to attend to Ukraine’s defense requirements, its humanitarian consequences can not be disregarded. A thorough analysis is required, where the long-term implications of utilizing such weapons are taken into consideration meanwhile exploring alternate support strategies that put the security of civilians as a first priority. Furthermore, finding a long-term and morally acceptable solution to Ukraine’s security requires upholding both the requirements of humanitarian law and defense necessity.

Shadab Jabbar

Shadab Jabbar is a Quetta-based undergraduate, final semester student of International Relations at the University of Baluchistan. She is an advocate of Human Rights and Environmental Security and is an executive member of the Human Rights Council of Pakistan, Baluchistan Wing. She aspires to advance in research and policy-making. Her areas of interest are Foreign Policy Analysis, Diplomacy, Strategic Studies, International Political Economy, National Security Policy, and Cyber Warfare.

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