Biden sends cluster bombs to Ukraine: A socialist analysis

What are the facts regarding Biden’s decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine and what is the reason for many countries having signed a treaty saying they won’t use cluster bombs? A history of when and where they were used in the past helps clarify those questions. That and the real purposes for cluster bombs in Ukraine should help clarify our view on Biden’s decision to send them to Ukraine. Based on actual facts, there seem to be arguments pro and con.

Partial timeline of wars in which cluster bombs were used. Ukraine is not fighting a war of this sort.

A timeline by the Cluster Munition Coalition reveals that since WW II, cluster bombs were essentially used in an invasion or to put down a domestic rebellion. In nearly all those cases, they were dropped indiscriminately, without regard to the lives of civilians. In fact, in some cases it’s clear that at least part of the intent was to attack the civilian population as well as enemy combatants. That is not the type of war Ukraine is fighting at all. On the contrary, the Ukraine government is fighting against an invasion. Therefore, they are unlikely to use cluster bombs indiscriminately.

How will Ukraine use the cluster bomb artillery?

According to some reports based on visits to Ukraine, Ukrainians are expecting these bombs will be used to clear mine fields. If that is true, then these bombs will certainly save far more Ukrainian injuries and lives than any unexploded bomblets will cause later on.

However, retired Lt. General Mark Hertling recently explained on CNN that cluster bombs cannot be used to demine a mine field. Nor did Biden mention that use when he discussed sending the cluster bombs, and a search of news stories on this finds no such mention. Nor can they be efficiently used to attack soldiers in a trench according to Hertling. That’s because the bomblets spread in a wide circle, meaning only a few of them would fall into the trench. Hertling said that their main use would be for attacking Russia’s artillery installations, where Russia has troops out in the open. Youtuber “Paul the US military combat vet” also tends to confirm that, saying that they “will not be a game changer”. He never even addressed the question of whether they can be used to clear mine fields.

This is critical, because one of the main problems Ukraine faces in its counteroffensive is the extensive and intensively laid mine fields. The US has given Ukraine equipment to clear mines. However, this equipment is slow moving, making them sitting ducks for Russian rockets which are fired from Russian helicopters at some distance.

Therein lies the other part of the problem: As Oaklandsocialist has documented, Biden has been extremely slow in providing Ukraine with all the weapons it needs for its own defense. This is especially true when it comes to aircraft. It is only recently, well over one and a half years after Russia invaded, that Biden agreed to allow a few F-16 fighter jets to be sent to Ukraine, and these are an elderly type of jet compared to the F-35.

According to Mark Cancian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies as well as Biden’s own national security advisor Jack Sullivan, Biden agreed to send the cluster bomb artillery because the US is running low on “singular” artillery.

If those reports from Ukraine are accurate, and if the cluster bombs can actually be used to clear mine fields, then they will certainly save far more Ukrainian lives than any remaining duds would kill, including civilians after the war is over. That’s even true despite the fact that it’s reportedly very difficult to detect dud bomblets because they are relatively small.

That means the objection to cluster bombs – the danger to Ukrainian civilians – is invalid. It seems from here that the main objection would be that cluster bombs are simply not that efficient from Ukraine’s point of view. But even there, given that the US is running low on singular artillery shells, it’s almost a choice of cluster bomb artillery shells or no artillery shells at all. 

Update & correction: I am told that cluster bombs and cluster ammunition are not the same. The former are dropped from an airplane (as is any bomb) and explodes on hitting the ground (if it’s not a dud). Cluster ammunition is shot from artillery. The bomblets each have a fuse and they blow up above the ground. According to what I’m told, cluster artillery can be used to demine a minefield, and this is what’s being sent to Ukraine. Neither “Paul the combat vet” nor anybody else had explained that difference up until now.

It seems that picturing Ukrainian use of cluster bombs as close to a war crime is not based on fact and is invalid. But neither is it valid to simply defend their use without considering the actual history and facts. Socialists should take the position that the US should further draw down on its stockpile of conventional ammunition. And we should call for accelerating the supplying of the equipment that Ukraine really needs, including modern fighter jets, and stop the prohibition against Ukraine attacking Russian military targets inside Russia. Those are the measures that will make a real difference in defeating this imperialist invasion while lessening the loss of Ukrainian lives.

Categories: Europe, History, Uncategorized, war

8 replies »

  1. Cluster bombs are anti-personnel weapons. They are designed to stay active after dispersal to inflict injury on personnel moving through the area after the initial attack. You simply don’t know what you’re talking about.

    • There are different types. Unless I’m mistaken, the ones Biden is sending are designed to explode on impact with the ground.The reason that they are considered to be a problem is that a percentage of them are “duds” that don’t explode on impact but can explode even years later.

      • I’m not clear who Bob is replying to, but just to be clear: From “Cluster munitions can be delivered by aircraft or ground-launched missiles, projectiles, and rockets. They open in mid-air and disperse dozens and even hundreds of smaller submunitions, also called bomblets, over an area the size of a city block. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that act like landmines, posing a threat to civilians for years and even decades.” The clear meaning is that they are designed to explode on impact. I have read that there are other types with a fuse that makes them explode at or above ground level. But a landmine explodes when somebody steps on or near it. Very different from a cluster bomb.

      • No, cluster munitions are dispersed from a casing– artillery shell, rocket, or bomb. The “dud” feature is actually a design feature, to extend the effective longevity of some of the bomblets. These weapons have been banned by 123 countries, including 90 percent of NATO members, but not, of course, the US. Now we have self-proclaimed socialists defending the use of these weapons. What a disgrace. What’s next? Germany to ship remaining supplies of Zyklon B gas?

      • Where do you get your information that the did feature is intentional, that it’s a “design feature”? I have never seen that claim anywhere. Second: As the article points out, this will be a different use of them from how they are generally used. We should deal with issues from a factual basis, not based on emotions.

        I must add: When I first read that the US was sending cluster bombs to Ukraine, I was against it. Then I went back and forth. Now, I am of mixed mind but especially if it’s possible to use them to clear minefields (which I am unsure of), then it’s clear they will save far more Ukrainian lives than the dud bomblets will kill. You really should deal with that fact.

  2. The area where these cluster munitions are to be used is already the most intensely mined war zone on earth. Do western so called peace activists seriously think Ukrainians, who like all parents and communities dearly love their children, will let them play in these areas after the war? Of course not! Like the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, these lands will be off limits for decades.

  3. I think it’s unnecessary for socialists who support Ukraine to get involved in the rights and/or wrongs of using cluster bombs: solidarity with Ukraine need not mean endorsing its military choices, any more than it means endorsing its government’s domestic policies.

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