In the “brutal logic of warfare”, says The New York Times, cluster bombs make a sick sort of sense. So it’s no surprise the Ukrainians have welcomed Joe Biden’s decision to send them artillery shells packed with “armour-piercing, soldier-killing bomblets” that can strike from 20 miles away and obliterate well dug-in Russian troops over a wide area. Over objections from human rights organisations and key allies like Britain, the President says the US will ship cluster munitions until suppliers can catch up with the massive demand for regular artillery shells.
This is a terrible mistake. The reason these chaotic weapons are so awful is that “not all bomblets explode as they’re meant to”. Thousands of small, unexploded grenades can lie around for decades before somebody, “often a child, spotting a brightly coloured, battery-sized doodad on the ground”, accidentally sets it off. That’s why 123 countries have agreed “never to use, transfer, produce or stockpile” cluster bombs. It’s up to Ukraine to decide what weapons it uses on its own territory, but it is for America to decide what weapons to supply. And however effective these munitions may be in the short term, this is not the sort of thing a nation with the “power and influence” of the US should be involved in. Encouraging the use of brutal, indiscriminate bombs that much of the world condemns will undermine one of the main justifications for taking Ukraine’s side in the first place: sticking up for the good guys.