President Joe Biden is planning to send Ukraine controversial munitions, cluster bombs, as well as an additional $800 million in military aid according to Fox News. The United States has provided, as of May 19 of this year, over $75 billion in aid to the Eastern European country. Since February 2022, Ukraine has been in a direct bloody war of attrition with Russia after Moscow invaded Ukraine. As Fox News noted, “[b]oth Russia and Ukraine have used cluster munitions since Russia’s invasion.”
The BBC wrote about concerns over the munition type being sent to Ukraine. They wrote “they [cluster bombs] can kill indiscriminately over a wide area, threatening civilians…The munitions are controversial because of their high failure rates, meaning unexploded bomblets can linger on the ground for years and possibly detonate later on.” They further pointed out that in order to do this, Biden had to bypass “[the] US law [that] prohibits the transfer of cluster munitions with bomblet failure rates higher than 1% – meaning more than 1% of the bomblets in the weapon do not explode.”
The Defense Department assured reporters that the bombs being supplied would have a failure rate lower than 2.35 percent.
The controversial nature of these munitions has led to over 100 states banning their storage and use through the Convention on Cluster Munitions that took effect on August 1, 2010. The text of the convention “prohibits all use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions” according to the convention’s website. It should be noted that neither Russia, the United States, or Ukraine are signatories of that convention. Therefore, they are not bound by that legal text and declaration.
One commentator on the Russo-Ukraine War observed on Twitter that the recent development was expected “largely because we’re running out of conventional munitions.” He added that “This is much less about cluster munitions as such and more about what’s in stock.”
This is much less about cluster munitions as such and more about what’s in stock.
— Big Serge ☦️🇺🇸🇷🇺 (@witte_sergei) July 5, 2023
Almost since the war’s inception, there have been reports that the US arsenal has been depleting at such a rapid rate that the United States is at risk of not having enough ability to replenish these munitions in a short space of time. As one report dated from December 2022 observed “Once the stockpiles are expended, the Department of Defense cannot simply buy more munitions—manufacturing takes years.” Put simply at the current weapons and munitions production rate, the United States cannot effectively meet Ukrainian demands for the medium to long term (and is struggling as it to try to meet the short term).
Russia by contrast had already been noted by the Telegram back in February 2023 as “about to win the ammunition war against the West.” Yahoo observed in June 2022 that Ukraine is “outgunned 20 to one in artillery and 40 to one in ammunition by Russian forces.” The political scientist and international relations scholar John J. Mearsheimer relayed that artillery “is the most important weapon in attrition warfare.”
Ukraine’s latest offensive to regain territory annexed by Russia has, in the words of CNN, “so far failed to yield major advances”, is “slower than expected”, and “could become increasingly unsustainable if the conflict drags on [this way].” The Ukrainian president has blamed the West for the slow nature of the offensive and said “[s]low weapons deliveries from the West delayed Ukraine’s counteroffensive” and allowed Russia to build up its defenses during that critical time period.