By Daniel Payne
The head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace expressed concern this week over the Biden White House’s decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine to aid in the country’s ongoing conflict against Russia.
The Defense Department announced last week that it would be sending “additional security assistance to meet Ukraine’s critical security and defense needs.”
The package included “additional artillery systems and ammunition, including highly effective and reliable dual-purpose improved conventional munitions,” the latter of which are commonly known as “cluster munitions.”
On Friday, Peace Committee Bishop David J. Malloy noted in a statement that dozens of countries, including the Holy See, have signed the international Convention on Cluster Munitions, which “prohibits all use, production, transfer, and stockpiling” of the armaments.
“Pope Francis has addressed the conventions on antipersonnel mines and cluster munitions, exhorting all countries to commit to these conventions ‘so that there are no more mine victims,’” Malloy wrote.
“While recognizing Ukraine’s right to self-defense, we must continue to pray for dialogue and peace,” he added. “I join with our Holy Father in supporting and sharing in his moral concern and aspiration.”
“Cluster munitions” are designed to explode above a target into smaller “submunitions” that can then deal considerable damage to personnel and military equipment. They have been used in combat since World War II.
Critics warn that the bombs by dint of their widespread coverage area pose significant threats to civilians; they also pose a risk of leaving behind unexploded ordnance on battlefields, which can cause harm to civilians even after conflicts have ended.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions was signed in December 2008. More than 100 countries have signed on to the measure, which prohibits both the development and use of cluster bombs. Then-Pope Benedict XVI was a vocal backer of the initiative, with the Holy See among the first ratifiers of the convention.
Biden’s decision to send the munitions drew a bipartisan rebuke in Congress this week with several dozen Democrats voting with Republicans to amend the National Defense Authorization Act to block the munitions shipment. That vote ultimately failed.