The U.S. Cluster Munition Coalition (USCMC) is deeply dismayed by the Biden administration’s decision to transfer a third round of cluster munitions to Ukraine. Cluster munitions have a widespread indiscriminate effect and devastating humanitarian consequences. These weapons have been banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions by 124 countries, including most NATO member states.
The latest transfer reportedly consists of an unspecified quantity of U.S. stocks of a cluster munition delivered by ballistic missiles (ATACMS) with a 100-mile range. Each missile contains 950 M74 antipersonnel/anti-material submunitions.
These cluster munitions are more than 20 years old and scatter softball-sized submunitions with a dud rate that will result in a costly and deadly legacy of contamination. The US last used cluster munitions in 2003 in Iraq, including ATACMS containing M74 submunitions. At the time, Human Rights Watch reported that unexploded M74 submunitions “littered farmland.”
The latest transfer follows criticism by more than 20 countries, U.S. lawmakers, and civil society of President Biden’s July and September transfers of cluster munitions delivered by 155mm artillery projectiles.
According to the Cluster Munition Monitor 2023 report, cluster munition attacks killed or wounded at least 987 people in 2022, of whom 890 were in Ukraine, and 95% of whom were civilians. Russia is responsible for the vast majority of these casualties as it has used cluster munitions repeatedly in Ukraine since its full-scale invasion of the country on February 24, 2022. Reports by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch show that Ukrainian forces have also used cluster munitions, resulting in civilian casualties.
The transfer and use of cluster munitions runs contrary to international norms as reflected in the Convention on Cluster Munitions. In September, states parties to the convention collectively “condemned any use of cluster munitions by any actor’ and expressed “grave concern at the significant increase in civilian casualties and the humanitarian impact resulting from the repeated and well documented use of cluster munitions” since 2021, in particular with respect to “the use of cluster munitions in Ukraine.”
The USCMC has repeatedly appealed to the Biden administration to answer basic questions regarding the transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine, such as the specific types and quantities. Yet most of its questions remain unanswered three months later.
The USCMC calls on the United States to change course and not be complicit in the use of these devastating and indiscriminate weapons. It strongly urges President Biden to reconsider the decision given the significant humanitarian, human rights, and political risks involved. Further, the USCMC reiterates its call for the United States to accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and to encourage its partners and allies to do the same.
Cluster munitions can be fired from the ground by artillery, rockets, missiles, and mortar projectiles, or dropped by aircraft. They typically open in the air, dispersing multiple submunitions or bomblets over a wide area. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that can indiscriminately injure and kill like landmines for years, until they are cleared and destroyed.
The U.S. Cluster Munition Coalition is a coalition of non-governmental organizations working to achieve a comprehensive U.S. ban on cluster munitions as well as for U.S. accession to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which more than 120 nations have joined. Our coalition also calls for sustained U.S. government financial support for the clearance of cluster munition remnants and assistance for victims of the weapons.