But internal administration debate over using them has intensified since the crackling counteroffensive, leading some officials to say the administration is closer to a « yes » now than at any other point in the war.
All three people said that no final decision has been made and that there is no timeline for when it would arrive. However, one of the US officials, who like others were granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive internal deliberation, said that « the United States is considering providing » cluster munitions.
The Pentagon said it has nothing to announce about the weapon. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cluster munitions can be launched from high-mobility artillery missile systems and 155mm howitzers, which the United States has provided to Ukraine as part of $41 billion in security assistance since the war began in February 2022. The munitions disperse large numbers of explosive « bombs » over a wide area, potentially killing civilians near intended targets. « Faults » that don’t work could later explode, harming innocent people and complicating troop movements as the war progresses.
The United States is not party to an international ban on their use, the 2010 Convention on Cluster Munitions signed by more than 100 countries. But Congress has limited Washington’s ability to transfer cluster munitions, citing the risk to civilians. The president or secretary of state can override these constraints if a high standard is met.
But last week, Laura Cooper, the Pentagon’s Europe chief, told lawmakers in the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the munitions « would be useful, especially against entrenched Russian positions on the battlefield. »
Republican lawmakers are in favor of the move, and committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said last week that cluster munitions « would be incredibly effective against the heavily fortified Russian defensive positions that the Ukrainians now have to breach. »
Democrats in Congress, however, are not in favor. In a letter obtained by POLITICO this week, 14 Democratic senators wrote to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that « the humanitarian costs and damage to coalition unity from the supply of U.S. cluster munitions would outweigh the tactical benefits, and urge the president not to approve such a transfer. »
The battlefield is also littered with mines, one reason Ukraine’s counter-offensive has not gone as quickly as officials in Kiev and Washington had hoped. Russia used cluster munitions throughout the war, while evidence is mounting that Ukraine is launching themmashed potato.
According to a March report of the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine“The Ukrainian Armed Forces likely used cluster munitions and rocket-launched anti-personnel landmines to carry out attacks in the city of Izium, Kharkiv Region, from March to September 2022, when it was controlled by the Russian Armed Forces.”