US to provide Ukraine with cluster bombs despite international bans

The US has agreed to provide Ukraine with controversial cluster bombs, a move which is likely to divide its western allies, ITV News Correspondent Robert Moore reports

The US has announced it will give cluster bombs to Ukraine, despite most of the world and the UN banning the use of the munitions.

The decision came as leaders of Nato countries gathered in Lithuania where President Joe Biden is likely to face questions from his partners over why they would use such a weapon.

Two-thirds of Nato members have banned the use of cluster munitions due to their track record of causing civilian casualties.

The munitions — which are bombs that open in the air and release scores of smaller bomblets — are seen by the US as a way to give Kyiv critically needed ammunition to help bolster its offensive and push through Russian front lines.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan defended the decision. Credit: AP

A convention banning the use of cluster bombs has been joined by more than 120 countries, including the UK, that agreed not to use, produce, transfer or stockpile the weapons and to clear them after they’ve been used.

The United States, Russia and Ukraine are among those who have not signed on.

The decision to donate the weapons comes after months of debate which divided Congress and was criticised by some members of President Biden's Democratic party.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan defended the decision on Friday, saying the US will send a version of the munition that has a reduced "dud rate," meaning fewer of the smaller bomblets fail to explode.

The unexploded rounds, which often litter battlefields and populated civilian areas, cause unintended deaths.

The US has declined to reveal exactly how many of the bombs will be provided but said the number was in the thousands.

A suspected Russian cluster bomb in Ukraine. Credit: AP

Mr Sulivan said: "We recognise the cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance.

"This is why we’ve deferred the decision for as long as we could. But there is also a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians, because Ukraine does not have enough artillery. That is intolerable to us."

Marta Hurtado, speaking for the UN human rights office, said: "The use of such munitions should stop immediately and not be used in any place."

US officials said the Ukrainians have provided written assurances that they will not use the munitions in urban areas that are populated by civilians and that there will be a careful accounting of where they are employed.

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Mr Sullivan said the US consulted closely with allies before making the final decision, noting that even allies who have signed on to a ban of the bombs "have indicated, both privately and many of them publicly over the course of today, that they understand our decision."

He said allies "recognise the difference between Russia using its cluster munitions to attack Ukraine and Ukraine using cluster munitions to defend itself its citizens and its sovereign territory." he said.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, some cluster munitions leave behind bomblets that have a high rate of failure to explode — up to 40% in some cases.

With a claimed rate under 3% for the supply to Ukraine, US officials said there would be fewer unexploded bombs left behind to harm civilians.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stressed on Friday that the military alliance takes no position on cluster munitions and it is a decision that allies will make.

Germany, which has signed the ban treaty, said it won’t provide the bombs to Ukraine, but expressed understanding for the American position.