Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Open letter from former US ambassadors to Laos to President Biden expressing deep dismay and disappointment on decision to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine.

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Washington, D.C.
July 12, 2023
Mr. President,
We the undersigned learned with deep dismay and disappointment that your administration had reached the unfortunate decision to supply cluster munitions to the Ukraine military. The rationale for this step is that Ukraine was running out of artillery ammunition at a crucial point in its counteroffensive and these cluster munitions would seriously hamper Russian military operations. We also understand that this decision reverses a long standing commitment on the part of the United States not to furnish cluster munitions to other countries. Moreover, it is completely inconsistent with commendable U.S. and NATO condemnation of Russia's own use of cluster munitions in its war of aggression against Ukraine.
Having served under successive administrations as U.S. envoys to Laos -- one of the most heavily bombed countries on earth during the Secret war 1964-1973 along side of the war in Vietnam -- we witnessed year after year the enormous damage that unexploded cluster munitions — the lion share of the unexploded Ordnance (UXO) in Laos —has done and continues to do to Laos and its people. Millions of tons of cluster munitions rained down on the Lao rice fields and forests year after year in order to arrest the use of Lao territory to prosecute the war in neighboring Vietnam and Cambodia. As a result, over the past decades until today, thousands of civilian Laotian lives — men, women and children — have been lost or severely damaged by these pernicious weapons. The failure rate of these munitions, according to the Pentagon itself, then was approximately 30 %. All of these civilian casualties were “unintended” against non-combatants. Yet the contamination was real and severe. The United States today is spending tens of millions of dollars a year to help remove this ordnance and restore the Lao countryside.
Now we witness yet another region at war. The United States and its NATO allies seek to support Ukraine in its efforts to repel the Russian invader, a support we commend and endorse. But our witness to the damage cluster munitions continue to cause Laos tells us that, whatever the short term tactical advantage on the battlefield, the long term consequences will be severe. Even if the cluster ordnance failure rate has been reduced, we anticipate that more cluster munition-caused civilian damage and death will result. The United States will share morally for the unintended consequences that will certainly occur: killing or maiming innocent Ukrainian civilian men, women and children and contaminating Ukraine’s rich farmland for decades to come.
We respectfully request that you reconsider this decision and seek to support Ukraine's legitimate efforts to defend itself through other means than using cluster munitions. We all recognize that the costs of this immoral war will be a terrible burden for the people of Ukraine for years to come. The United States should not contribute further to that burden with cluster munitions.
Ambassador (ret.) Douglas A Hartwick, (in Laos 2001-2004)
Ambassador (ret.) Patricia M. Haslach (in Laos 2004-2007)
Ambassador (ret.) Ravic R. Huso (in Laos 2007 – 2010)
Ambassador (ret.) Harriet W. Isom (Charge in Laos 1986- 89)
Ambassador (ret.) Charles B.Salmon,Jr (in Laos 1989-93)
Ambassador (ret.) Victor L. Tomseth (in Laos 1994-97 )

EXPERTS to contact for more information:

Sera Koulabdara Chair, U.S. Cluster Munition Coalition and CEO, Legacies of War
Titus Peachey Steering Committee Member, U.S. Cluster Munition Coalition and Emeritus Board Chair, Legacies of War