President Biden’s decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine has angered a broad swath of Democrats, who accuse his administration of a hypocritical decision that put America’s moral standing at risk.
The move responded to a month-long clamor by congressional Republicans to supply Kyiv with the weapons, but Mr. Biden’s political allies denounced it.
“A victory for Ukraine is an essential victory for democracies around the world, but that victory cannot come at the expense of our American values and thus of democracy itself,” Representative Chrissy Houlahan, Democrat of Pennsylvania and Air Force veteran, who will co-chair. bipartisan congressional party on unexploded ordinance and demining, said in a statement on Friday. “I challenge the notion that we should be using the same tactics that Russia is using, blurring the lines of moral high ground.”
She and other Democrats have argued that cluster munitions of the kind the administration plans to send to Ukraine pose indiscriminate harm to civilians long after they are used in combat.
The weapons “disperse hundreds of bombs that can travel well beyond military targets and injure, maim and kill civilians — often long after a conflict has ended,” said Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts. In a statement, he pointed out that several NATO members – though not the United States – are parties to an international treaty banning their use.
The few Republicans who spoke about Mr. Biden’s decision on Friday, however, praised him for what they said was a necessary step.
“For Ukrainian forces to defeat Putin’s invasion, Ukraine needs at least equal access to the weapons Russia is already using against them, such as cluster munitions,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, said in a statement. “Providing this new capability is the right decision – even if it has taken too long – and is one that I have long supported.”
For months, the top Republicans on the Senate and House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees — Representatives Michael McCaul of Texas and Mike Rogers of Alabama and Senators James Risch of Idaho and Roger Wicker of Mississippi — have been calling on the Biden administration to provide Ukraine. with doubly improved conventional munitions, of the kind that were approved on Friday.
In a joint letter to Mr. Biden in March, the four wrote that the weapons “will allow Ukraine to offset Russia’s quantitative advantage in both personnel and artillery overruns, and allow the Ukrainian Armed Forces to focus their use of unitary warheads against more high-value Russian goals.”
They added that the munitions “could help fill a key gap for Ukraine’s military, and, in concert with other provided capabilities, continue to push Putin’s forces out of Ukraine.”
But most Democrats contended that even if that were true, the cluster munitions would jeopardize the larger goal of building a lasting Ukrainian state.
“Accidents are preventing the successful economic reconstruction and recovery needed to ensure a prosperous Ukraine and preserve anti-corruption gains,” Representative Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., said in a statement. She teamed up this week with Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, to introduce legislation banning the export of cluster munitions as military aid. The duo plans to propose the measure as an amendment to the annual defense bill when the House considers it next week.