Biden’s Decision on Ukraine Cluster Munitions Sparks Some Democratic Blowback

Some Democrats in Congress are echoing concerns from human rights groups that the munitions will harm civilians in Ukraine.

Nearly two dozen congressional Democrats on Friday expressed frustration with the Biden administration over its decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine in a U.S. military aid package.

The lawmakers echoed warnings from human rights groups that the surface-to-surface warheads, which disperse small munitions or bombs over wide areas, can explode after battle and sometimes injure or kill innocent people.

“Cluster munitions are illegal under international law,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said in a statement announcing that she plans to introduce an amendment with Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., to the annual defense policy bill that would ban the sale of cluster munitions.

“We can support the people of Ukraine in their freedom struggle, while also opposing violations of international law,” Omar said, noting that the munitions are banned in more than 100 countries.

Omar and Jacobs were among a group of 19 House progressives who issued a statement Friday urging President Joe Biden not to transfer the cluster munitions.

Jacobs announced her opposition to the munitions transfer in a statement Thursday, saying she was “disappointed and alarmed” by the forthcoming move.

“We can and will continue to support our Ukrainian allies’ defense against Russia’s aggression. However, that support does not require we undermine the United States’ leadership in advocating for human rights around the world,” the lawmakers said.

“The White House’s announcement runs counter to Congress’s restrictions on the transfer of these weapons and severely undermines our moral leadership.”

The Pentagon announced the planned transfer of the munitions, along with other weapons, on Friday afternoon.

Ukraine has been asking for the munitions since last year, when Russia invaded. The U.S. hopes the weapons will help Ukraine fill military stockpiles, especially the 155mm artillery round, two U.S. officials told NBC News.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., who served in the Air Force, said in a statement Friday that while she has been a proponent of providing resources and weapon systems to the U.S. ally, victory in Ukraine “cannot come at the expense of our American values and thus democracy itself.”

“Cluster munitions are indiscriminate, and I strongly oppose providing these weapons to Ukraine,” she continued. “History remembers not only who wins a war but also how a war is won.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who’s been outspoken on U.S. military issues for years, said Thursday that she was “alarmed” by the administration’s decision.

“Cluster bombs work by scattering tiny ‘bomblets’ over a wide area. Many of these bomblets don’t explode—but remain a threat to civilians for decades,” she tweeted. “The Ukrainian people are engaged in a just struggle for their rights, freedom and humanity. The US and Ukraine don’t need to stoop to Putin’s level.”

In a statement Friday, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said that Biden should “listen to our NATO allies,” noting that “the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain…oppose sending cluster munitions to Ukraine for the same reasons.”

Lee and McGovern both signed onto the statement issued by House progressives.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the criticism from Democratic lawmakers.

Biden signed a presidential waiver on the transfer of the weapons in recent days, two officials said. U.S. law requires the president to sign a waiver before exporting cluster munitions with a more than a 1% dud rate. The duds are the unexploded bomblets that can result from the use of the munitions.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said in a statement that the administration’s decision was an “unnecessary and a terrible mistake.”

“Congress has been clear in prohibiting the transfer of any cluster munition with a dud rate of greater than 1%,” she said. “Allowing legacy U.S. cluster munitions onto the battlefield in Ukraine undermines our moral authority and places the U.S. in a position that directly contradicts 23 of our NATO allies who have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions.”

Asked by a reporter Friday afternoon why he decided to send Ukraine the cluster munitions now, Biden said, “They’re running out of ammunition.”

Many Republicans in Congress have applauded Biden’s move.

Some Republican lawmakers, however, denounced Biden’s decision, but not for the same reasons as their Democratic colleagues.

In a joint statement from GOP leaders on the House and Senate committees overseeing foreign affairs, the top Republicans on those panels said the munitions will “help fill a key gap for Ukraine’s military” and will allow Ukraine’s forces “to target and eliminate Russian forces more efficiently.”

“Instead of focusing on a peaceful solution, Biden is sending us into WWIII,” tweeted Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.

Republicans, both on and off Capitol Hill, have largely been divided over U.S. involvement in Ukraine. Many conservatives have argued that the billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine would be better spent at home, or that the focus should be on China instead of Russia, while others like former Vice President Mike Pence have been supportive of countering Russian aggression in the region.

Several Democrats on Friday defended Biden’s move on cluster munitions.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who visited Ukraine and Poland on a congressional trip in April, suggested that the transfer of cluster munitions would help bring an end to the war with Russia.

President Zelenskyy made it clear that these munitions would play a significant role in bringing this conflict to an end, and based on what we saw firsthand, I believe that sufficient trust and expertise have been established with Ukrainian military forces to ensure these munitions are used as safely and efficiently as possible,” Manchin, D-W.Va., said in a statement Friday.

Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, a former combat veteran who joined Manchin on the April trip, also defended Biden’s decision.

In a statement, he contended that Ukrainians “have asked for these rounds to deploy in self-defense on their own soil because they see it as critical to their survival,” while pledging his continued support in working “to provide Ukraine with the weapons and support they need to beat Putin and win this war.”

Related Articles

Back to top button