The View from India | Why the U.S. is sending cluster munitions to Ukraine

Understand international affairs from the Indian perspective with View from India

Updated - July 11, 2023 08:35 am IST

Published - July 10, 2023 05:35 pm IST

(This article forms a part of the View From India newsletter curated by The Hindu’s foreign affairs experts. To get the newsletter in your inbox every Monday, subscribe here.)

U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine last week raised many eyebrows because the administration had earlier slammed the use of the deadly weapon in the battlefields of Ukraine. More than 100 countries, including many of America’s allies who support Ukraine through financial and military assistance against Russia have banned the munitions. Rights groups have internationally warned against the use of cluster bombs because of the indiscriminate harm it causes to civilians, particularly children. A cluster munition, Dinakar Peri writes in The Hindu Profiles, is a weapon that disperses or releases explosive submunitions: small, unguided explosives or bomblets (each weighing less than 20 kg) that are designed to explode prior to, on or after impact. Depending on the model, the number of submunitions dispersed or released by a cluster munition can vary from several dozens to over 600. Due to this, the submunitions get dispersed over a large area.” But the problem is that some of the bomblets remain “dud” for a long period which can explode later causing harm to civilians, even after the conflict is over. The U.S. is not a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the treaty that has banned the bombs, but had slammed Russia for the use of the bombs in the past, saying it amounted to war crimes. Both Russia and Ukraine, neither of which hasn’t endorsed the convention, have used cluster munitions in the battlefield.

The reason behind the U.S.’s U-turn could probably be the strains Ukraine is facing on the frontline. Kyiv is dependent almost entirely on the West for arms supply, while the Russian side is replenished by its own industrial base. In recent months, the West has supplies advanced arms to Ukraine, including armoured vehicles, Patriot air defence systems, HIMARS rockets, Storm Shadow long range missiles and Challenger, Leopard and Abrams tanks, but in a war dominated by artillery Ukraine is struggling to ensure the supply of shells and ammunitions. It launched its much-anticipated counteroffensive last month, hoping to inflict swift defeats on the Russians and putting President Vladimir Putin under pressure. Ukraine has retaken some villages in the southeast, but at a great cost, and its counteroffensive has run into the minefields and the fortifications the Russians have built along the 1,000-km long frontline. In this context, Ukraine hopes the supply of cluster munitions, proved dangerously effective in the battlefield, would sharpen its attacks, and Washington has budged. In this editorial, The Hindu, argues that the U.S. decision has blurred its own moral and ethical narrative about the war. The U.S. decision also shows that “no side is willing to make a compromise as yet, irrespective of their battlefield positions, as the war, even after 16 months of fighting, still stays in an escalation spiral”.

Multipolar world

Leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) held a virtual summit chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 4 in which they called for the formation of a “more representative” and multipolar world. The summit signed on Iran’s entry into the grouping as the latest member. It now has nine members — China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The SCO assumed greater significance in recent years as a champion of rising non-western economies that sought to make the post-War global order, dominated by the West, more representative. While the members signed a variety of agreements aimed at strengthening the grouping and deepening cooperation among themselves and expressed shared concern on non-UN sanctions (a reference to U.S.-led sanctions), the summit also exposed divisions within the group. India, who hosted the summit, refused to join others on paragraphs relating to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the joint statement, and stayed out of a joint statement on SCO Economic Development Strategy 2030. Prime Minister Modi also took sharp aim at Pakistan for cross-border terrorism, and at China for connectivity projects that do not respect the sovereignty of other members.

“While the members hammered out a New Delhi declaration and joint statements on radicalisation and digital transformation, the government was unable to forge consensus on other agreements including one on making English a formal SCO language, while India, despite being Chair, did not endorse a road map on economic cooperation, presumably due to concerns over China’s imprint,” The Hindu wrote in this editorial. “With its SCO chairmanship ending, the government may now be feeling the law of diminishing returns over its SCO engagement — one that might make its task of hosting the G-20 even more difficult.”

Also read: Explained | Iran’s induction in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, by Suhasini Haider

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