Washington agreed to provide them to Ukraine.. What is the danger of cluster munitions?

The announcement of the United States President Joe Biden’s approval to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine, The concern of human rights organizations, which have always called for a categorical ban on the use of these weapons. What are these ammunitions and what is their danger?

These cluster munitions, called “silent killers,” have been an urgent problem for decades. They are weapons that consist of a container that opens in the air and scatters large numbers of “bomblets,” or explosive submunitions, over a wide area, according to an extensive report published by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Depending on the model, the number of submunitions can range from several dozen to over 600. Cluster munitions can be delivered by aircraft, artillery or missiles.

free fall

As for the bulk of the submunitions, they are prepared to explode upon impact. Most of them have the advantage of free falling, meaning that they are not directed individually towards any target.

Cluster munitions were used for the first time in World War II, and a large proportion of the cluster munitions in stockpiles today were designed for use in the Cold War. Its main purpose was to destroy multiple military targets scattered over a wide area, such as formations of tanks or infantry, and to kill or injure combatants.

It does not explode on impact

History has shown that large numbers of submunitions do not explode on impact as intended. Reliable estimates of non-detonation rates for these weapons in recent conflicts range from 10% to 40%.

An empty cluster munition container stuck to the ground after a Russian attack on Ukraine (Reuters Photo).

Danger to civilians

Unexploded submunitions often explode when handled or moved, posing a grave danger to civilians. The presence of these weapons poses a threat to displaced civilians returning to their homes, hinders relief and reconstruction efforts, and makes vital subsistence activities such as farming extremely dangerous for years or even decades after the end of the conflict.

Since the submunitions, for the most part, are not precisely directed, their accuracy can be affected by weather and other environmental factors, and thus they may hit areas outside the target military position.

When these weapons are used in or near populated areas, they can pose a significant risk to civilians during the attack and also in the immediate post-strike period when people resume their normal activities.

Remnants of cluster munitions in Daraa, Syria - archive from Reuters

Remnants of cluster munitions in Daraa, Syria – archive from Reuters

Countries producing cluster munitions

There are 34 countries that have produced more than 210 different types of cluster munitions. Among these types are projectiles, bombs, rockets, rockets and scattering devices.

And at least 87 countries are stockpiling cluster munitions or have done so in the past. Current stockpiles number in the millions of cluster munitions, including billions of individual submunitions.

Of the 87 countries that have or have had stockpiles of cluster munitions, 16 have used them during armed conflict.

Even if a portion of the cluster munitions in existing stockpiles were used or transferred to other countries or non-state armed groups, the consequences could far outweigh those of antipersonnel mines in the 1990s.

Biden agrees to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine

Calls not to use it in Russia and Ukraine

Human Rights Watch called on Russia and Ukraine to stop using cluster munitions, and urged the United States not to provide them. The organization said that Russian and Ukrainian forces used these munitions, which killed Ukrainian civilians.

A 2009 law bans the United States from exporting cluster munitions with bomblet failure rates greater than 1 percent, which applies to almost all of the US military’s stockpile.

But Biden could bypass the ban, as his predecessor Donald Trump did in January 2021 to allow the export of cluster munition technology to South Korea.

Ukraine is urging members of Congress to pressure the Biden administration to approve sending cluster munitions known as enhanced conventional dual-purpose munitions.

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