[Debate} Cluster munitions: cause for concern!

Ensemle (FR)
July 11, 2023

At a time when the Ukrainian counter-offensive is encountering considerable difficulties, due to the multi-layered defensive system developed in recent months by the Russian army, Biden has decided to deliver cluster munitions to Ukraine. This decision is presented as a necessary response to the current situation.

Without the delivery of F16 aircraft, which would have been very useful both as protection and as support for the troops on the ground, and without a timely decision from the West, the Ukrainians can only rely on their artillery. This artillery is suffering from a serious shortage of ammunition. The West, which has run out of ammunition stocks because it did not restart production in time, cannot meet this shortfall. Hence, in response to urgent requests from the Ukrainian government, we have this American decision, "very difficult" according to Biden. Do we see here any particular objectives apart from the desire to defeat Russia by supporting Ukraine?

Why "very difficult"? Because cluster munitions are not ordinary weapons, if that term can be applied to weapons at all. According to Article II of the Oslo Convention, "cluster munition means a conventional munition designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms, and includes such explosive submunitions". They can be used to "treat" large areas (roughly speaking, a 155 mm submunition shell has the destructive power of five conventional shells, or to put it another way, one shell can cover two soccer pitches with submunitions).

The problem is that a large proportion of these submunitions fail to explode on impact. So, they can cause large numbers of civilian casualties over decades. Opposed for this reason by NGOs (including Handicap International, as well as the Red Cross, cluster munitions have been the subject of an international convention (Oslo, 3 December 2008) banning their use and transfer. "

Cluster munition remnants kill or maim civilians [...], hinder economic and social development [...], impede post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction, delay or prevent the return of refugees and internally displaced persons" (states the Preamble).

The Convention has been signed by 108 States. But most of the major holder and producer countries have refused to sign up. This is the case of the United States (which used them on a massive scale in Laos and Cambodia) and Russia (which did the same in Syria and is currently using them on a massive scale in Ukraine). The same is true of India, Israel, Pakistan, China and the two Koreas (non-exhaustive list).

It is understandable that the Ukrainians feel that at the point they have reached, with tens of thousands of km2 mined by Russia, adding a few more km2 in order to clear a corridor likely to allow a breakthrough is hardly going to change things. It has to be said, however, that if such a use were to be confirmed, it would run the risk of provoking incomprehension in a section of public opinion supportive of the Ukrainian people.

These kilometres of mined land, destined to claim many civilian victims in the future, are Ukrainian territories illegally occupied by the Putin government. The Putin regime is responsible for numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as for ecocide, the consequences of which are as long-lasting as they are catastrophic for the Ukrainian people. This means thatMoscow is fully responsible for current and future developments.

We understand the difficulties encountered by the Ukrainian people in their resistance to this dirty war of aggression and we are aware of the obstacles they face and the context of this decision.

While we remain firm in our support for the Ukrainian people in a war that is a war of national liberation, we cannot hide our concerns about the use of cluster munitions.

The International Committee of Ensemble ! 11 July 2023