President Joe Biden‘s controversial decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine is a “tragic necessity” in Kyiv’s fight against Russia’s invasion, according to Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia.
The Pentagon announced an additional military package for Ukraine on Friday, which will include “highly effective and reliable” dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM), or cluster bombs. The weapons, however, have been banned in hundreds of countries due to their strong potential for civilian harm.
During an exclusive interview with CNN‘s Fareed Zakaria, Biden said it was a “difficult decision” to approve the transfer of the disputed weapons, but added, “The Ukrainians are running out of ammunition.” The president faced backlash from several within his own party for approving the transfer, including Democratic Representative Barbara Lee, who tweeted Friday that the “U.S. and Ukraine don’t need to stoop to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s level” to win the war.
But according to McFaul, the munitions are a “necessity” for Ukraine, which has been making incremental gains in its counteroffensive campaign to reclaim Russian-occupied territory.
“I’ve advocated for the US to sign the international agreement banning cluster munitions in the past,” McFaul tweeted Friday evening. “I also support this decision today. In debate/conversation/discussion with others, I’ve been convinced of the tragic necessity of this decision.”
“To those rightly raising questions about the US decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine, your concerns about “war crimes” & international law today would have had a lot more credibility if you raised similar concerns the previous 499 days about Russia using such weapons against Ukrainians,” the former ambassador wrote in a separate tweet.
After a cluster bomb is fired either from the surface or from an aircraft, the munition releases in midair tens or hundreds of submunitions, which, according to the U.S. Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) can “disperse bomblets indiscriminately across a wide area that often fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that litter communities and endanger civilians” for years after they were launched.
The CMC is comprised of several nongovernmental organizations that urge the U.S. to ban the use of such weapons, given their ability to bring harm upon civilians. The organization also stated in a release on Friday that the munitions “are not a ‘winning weapon’ and will only cause greater suffering, today and for decades to come.”
The treaty of the Convention on Cluster Munitions of 2008 has been signed by 123 countries thus far, including several NATO members, which have agreed to ban the use of the munitions. However, the U.S., as well as Russia and Ukraine, have not agreed to the treaty, and both Russia and Ukraine have used cluster bombs in battle.
“We strongly condemn the use of cluster munitions by all parties in the war in Ukraine and call for the immediate end to the use of these horrific weapons anywhere in the world,” said chair of the CMC and CEO of Legacies of War Sera Koulabdara, who was quoted in the release.
But other experts have argued that the munitions will provide an important boost to Ukraine’s arsenal against Russia. Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses, tweeted Friday that, “Providing cluster munitions to Ukraine, at this stage, could have a significant impact beyond what other capabilities might achieve.”
“Progress has been slow, difficult, and without sustained breakthroughs thus far,” Kofman added in reference to Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
“Consequently, Ukraine’s hardest limit is probably not manpower, or equipment, but arty ammunition,” he continued. “This is foremost about the numbers. Providing DPICM gives access to a sizable stockpile of artillery ammo that can alleviate the time pressure on [Ukraine] operations.”
Newsweek has reached out to Koulabdara on Friday via email for additional comment.
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