Biden administration gives cluster bombs to Ukraine after condemning Russia's use of them

July 8, 2023
Jen Krausz

The Biden administration said Friday that it would give cluster bombs to Ukraine to aid in its war effort despite previously saying that the use of such bombs by Russia was a possible "war crime."

Cluster bombs are made up of dozens of explosives spread out over a large area. Around 100 countries have banned their use because of the potential to kill civilians.

In announcing the move, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan justified giving the bombs to Ukraine by saying that Russia had used them.

The hypocrisy

But in February 2022, then-Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the use of the bombs might be illegal.

"We have seen the reports," she answered a reporter about Russia's use of cluster bombs against Ukraine. "If that were true, it would potentially be a war crime."

She implied that the U.S. could be part of the enforcement for any illegal bomb use.

"Obviously, there are a range of international fora that would assess that. So, certainly, we would look to that to be a part of that conversation," she said.

It's possible that whether or not it was a war crime would depend on whether the bombs were used against Ukrainian civilians and that Psaki was referring to civilian casualties when saying it could be a war crime. Sullivan seemed to suggest in his comments that Ukraine would not use the cluster bombs against Russian civilians.

Defending their country

Sullivan suggested that Ukraine would use the bombs on its own land rather than in Russia, which might be more acceptable to the U.S. and other nations involved in the war.

"Ukraine would not be using these munitions in some foreign land. This is their country they're defending," he said.

If Ukraine used the bombs on Russian assets in their own country, it could mitigate the "war crime" aspect of using the bombs, since Russian civilians would not be in Ukraine.

Neither Ukraine nor Russia is a country that has signed the ban on the weapons at this time.

The war in Ukraine has been going on since February 2022, and Statista reports that 9,083 civilians have been killed, though the site doesn't specify which country those civilians are from. The U.S. has been the largest donor to Ukraine to aid in the war effort, which has drawn the ire of Russia along with accusations that the U.S. is involved enough in the war for Russia to threaten (subtly) to attack it.

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