Biden Faces Strong Opposition From His Own Party on Cluster Munitions

Ross Muscato
By Ross Muscato
July 7, 2023Politics
Biden Faces Strong Opposition From His Own Party on Cluster Munitions
President Joe Biden speaks about health care costs in the East Room of the White House on July 7, 2023. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

The decision of the Biden administration, following several months of internal debate, to include cluster munitions as part of its new $800 million aid package to Ukraine is opposed by members of his own party in Congress, who otherwise are allies of the administration’s support of the nation in its war with Russia.

Congressional Democrats posted on their websites and made Twitter statements condemning the decision.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) is an Air Force veteran who has been a steadfast backer of the administration’s Ukraine policy, but she thinks that arming Ukraine with cluster munitions is wrong.

“From the outset of Russia’s unjust war, I have been one of the most vocal and supportive members of Congress when it comes to providing Ukraine the resources and weapon systems they need to defend themselves and their sovereignty,” said Ms. Houlahan.

“I believe a victory for Ukraine is an essential victory for democracies across the globe, but that victory cannot come at the expense of our American values and thus democracy itself. Cluster munitions are indiscriminate, and I strongly oppose providing these weapons to Ukraine.”

NTD Photo
Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) prepares to be interviewed on television just outside the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Dec. 17, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Controversial Weapons

First used in World War II, cluster munitions—also called cluster bombs—are containers that open in the air and disperse as many as a few dozen to 600 explosives, sometimes called bomblets, across tens of thousands of square meters of territory.  The munitions can be delivered by drops from aircraft and by artillery and missile strikes.

Cluster munitions are controversial.

Although the bomblets are intended to explode on impact, many do not yet remain active for years and can detonate when civilians, including children (who can mistake them for toys), come in contact with the explosives. As well, a high percentage of cluster bombs are free-floating, not precision-guided, and can drift into civilian areas.

In his remarks on July 7 announcing that the United States will supply Ukraine with cluster munitions, national security adviser Jake Sullivan addressed the risks to civilians while arguing that the consequences of not providing the weapons would be worse.

“So, the bottom line is this, we recognize the cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance,” said Mr. Sullivan. “This is why we deferred the decision for as long as we could.

“But there is also a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians. Because Ukraine does not have enough artillery.”

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks at a press briefing at the White House on April 24, 2023. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

The United States, Ukraine, and Russia are not among the 123 nations that are signatories or state parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), an international treaty established in 2008 that “prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions.” Twenty-three of the state parties to CCM are the United States’ NATO allies.

Both Russia and Ukraine are reported to have used cluster munitions in the ongoing conflict.

Democrats Strongly Object

A general concern held by Democrats is that supplying Ukraine with cluster bombs makes the United States complicit in humanitarian offenses while also ceding the moral high ground in its involvement in a conflict that is widely regarded to have resulted from Russian aggression.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) is another lawmaker who believes that the United States should aid Ukraine, but not with cluster munitions.

“The decision by the Biden administration to transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine is unnecessary and a terrible mistake,” said Ms. McCollum. “Congress has been clear in prohibiting the transfer of any cluster munition with a dud rate of greater than 1 percent.

“Allowing legacy U.S. cluster munitions onto the battlefield in Ukraine undermines our moral authority and places the U.S. in a position that directly contradicts 23 of our NATO allies who have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions.”

Democratic House members Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Sara Jacobs of California said they will introduce an amendment to the annual national defense bill to prohibit the United States from selling cluster munitions.

“Cluster munitions are illegal under international law. A total of 123 countries have ratified the convention to ban their use under all circumstances—including nearly all our allies,” said Ms. Omar.

Ilhan Omar
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaks in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on April 20, 2021. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

“It’s not hard to understand why. Because cluster bombs scatter multiple small bombs over a large area, they kill civilians both during an attack and after. I was recently in Vietnam where I heard firsthand how innocent civilians continue to be killed by U.S. cluster munitions a full fifty years after the conflict ended. Tens of thousands of explosives are found every year there.”

In a tweet, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said: “I continue to strongly support helping Ukraine stand up to Russia’s brutal war of aggression.  But cluster munitions won’t help.

“They are indiscriminate weapons that disperse hundreds of bomblets which can travel far beyond military targets and injure, maim, and kill civilians—long after the conflict is over.”

Condemnation From Human Rights Organizations

The Democrats speaking out echo the concerns of human rights organizations that have been watchful and attempted to prevent the Biden administration from choosing to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine.

On June 16, a coalition of 38 human relief organizations—including Amnesty International USA, Physicians for Human Rights, UNICEF USA, and Oxfam America—sent a letter to President Joe Biden decrying that the United States was considering furnishing Ukraine with the armaments.

“Cluster munitions have been used repeatedly by the Russian military since its full-scale invasion in February of 2022, with devastating impacts on civilians and civilian objects, including homes, hospitals, and schools, according to Human Rights Watch,” wrote the coalition.

“The Ukrainian military has also used cluster munitions on multiple occasions.  On April 8, 2022, a cluster munitions attack by Russia killed at least 58 civilians and injured over 100 others in the city of Kramatorsk—this is just one of the hundreds of documented, reported, or credibly alleged, cluster munition attacks in Ukraine since the 2022 invasion.

“The United States must not be complicit in the use of these indiscriminate weapons.”

From The Epoch Times

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