However convincing it may be to use any available weapon to protect one’s homeland, nations in the rules-based international order have increasingly sought to draw a red line against the use of weapons of mass destruction or weapons that pose a severe and ongoing risk to non-combatants. Cluster munitions clearly fall into the second category.
The reason is that not all bombs explode as intended, and thousands of small, unexploded shells can lie for years, even decades, before someone – often, a child – spots a brightly colored, battery-sized grenade on the ground. — accidentally triggers it. The weapons used today by Russia and Ukraine are said to leave up to 40 percent unexploded fraud, and they will remain a threat to the people of Ukraine, no matter what the outcome of this conflict.
This danger prompted the adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008. The then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, spoke of “not only the world’s collective pushback against these heinous weapons, but also the power of cooperation between governments, civil society and the United Nations to change attitudes and policies about a threat facing all of humanity.” As of today, 123 nations — including many of America’s allies — agreed never to use, transfer, produce or stockpile cluster munitions.
But not Russia or Ukraine, nor the United States, which used cluster munitions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the United States actively opposed the treaty. This editorial argued at the time that “As the main standoff, the United States provides cover for countries like Russia and China, which have also rejected the ban. The treaty is the weaker for it: together, these three nations have more than a billion cluster munitions stockpiled , far more than the number of weapons expected to be destroyed.”
Defending the decision to deliver the weapons to Ukraine, President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, argued that Ukraine would not use the munitions in a foreign country, but on its own territory. “These are their citizens that they are protecting, and they are encouraged to use whatever weapons system they have in a way that minimizes the risk to these citizens,” he said.