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US-provided cluster munitions in use in Ukraine

Risk of more civilian deaths concerns peace advocates

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The Pentagon (Photo by Touch Of Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

LOUISVILLE — Ukraine is now using cluster munitions to strengthen its counteroffensive against Russia after being supplied with the weapons by the United States in a decision that concerned many because of the risk of more civilian casualties.

Cluster munitions, which have been banned across much of the globe, are of concern because they do more damage than some other types of weaponry. The weapons not only scatter munitions over a wide area, but they also leave bomblets behind that can harm people long after conflicts have ended.

The Washington Post reported last week that U.S. cluster munitions debuted as Russian missiles were targeting Ukraine’s “Black Sea port region of Odesa for the third night in a row, while an attack on the nearby port city of Mykolaiv left 19 people wounded, including five children.”

The Post also stated that the barrages seemed to be in response to Ukraine striking a bridge connecting Russia to Crimea and noted that Russia has withdrawn from a UN-brokered deal that was intended to keep Ukraine grain exports going through to other parts of the world.

News of those developments comes about two weeks after the early July announcement that the U.S. would be transferring cluster munitions to Ukraine, which already had suffered damages from Russian use of cluster munitions.

The possibility of giving U.S. cluster munitions to Ukraine had been opposed by groups such as the U.S. Cluster Munition Coalition. In a June letter, the coalition pointed out that cluster munitions are “indiscriminate weapons that disproportionately harm civilians, both at the time of use and for years after a conflict has ended.”

The letter was signed by more than 20 coalition members, including the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness, as well as more than 15 coalition partners.

However, the Biden administration opted to go forward with the transfer, citing the need to further assist Ukraine and protect U.S. national security interests. Several countries, including Austria, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Laos, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom, have expressed concern, according to Human Rights Watch.

In an opinion piece in U.S.A. Today, Titus Peachey, emeritus board chairman of Legacies of War and a steering committee member of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines & Cluster Munitions Coalitions, said the U.S. should learn from history.

“U.S. cluster munitions have left a trail of human misery in the countries of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, Kuwait, Serbia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, to name a few,” Peachey noted.

He also stated that “more than 100 nations, including many of our NATO allies, have signed or acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the production, stockpiling, transfer and use of cluster bombs,” though the United States is not a party to it. “Forged with the strong participation of civil society and advocates from affected communities, this treaty asserts that even in warfare, there are some weapons that must not be used. Conversely, existing cluster munitions must be destroyed.”

Photo by Jorono via Pixabay

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov has pledged that his country’s armed forces will adhere to five principles regarding cluster munitions. They include not using the weapons in urban areas where civilian populations would be, keeping a “strict record” of where they are used, and committing to “de-mining” after the conflict to reduce the risks posed by unexploded elements of cluster munitions.

The Presbyterian Office of Public Witness is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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