Biden Concedes a 'Very Difficult Decision' on Ukraine

President says it took him 'a while to be convinced' to send controversial cluster bombs to help with war
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 8, 2023 8:30 AM CDT
Biden Concedes a 'Very Difficult Decision' on Ukraine
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Natalia Marna)

The Biden administration is on the defense after announcing it will send controversial cluster bombs to Ukraine to help in that nation's counteroffensive against Russia. On Friday, President Biden conceded to Fareed Zakaria on CNN that it was a "very difficult decision" to approve the transfer of cluster munitions, and that "it took me a while to be convinced to do it." The commander in chief noted that he conferred with both "our friends up on the Hill" and ally nations, but that ultimately, what swayed him was realizing that "the Ukrainians are running out of ammunition."

National security adviser Jake Sullivan concurred with Biden on the careful deliberations over the cluster bombs, noting that the White House spent "quite some time" mulling the move before making its decision, per the Washington Post. Biden told Zakaria that, on the recommendation of the Pentagon, the cluster bombs were only a "temporary" fix to help Ukraine during a "transition period" while the US produces more of the 155mm artillery it has been sending to Ukraine. The BBC notes cluster bombs, which can take out multiple military targets at once, are controversial partly due to their "dud" rate, referring to bombs that don't immediately detonate and remain on the ground—posing a danger to civilians, potentially for years.

Sullivan said that the cluster bombs being sent to Ukraine have been tested to make sure the dud rate isn't above 2.35%, and that Ukraine has assured the US "they intend to use these munitions in a way to minimize the exposure of civilians," per the Post. Still, most NATO member nations (the US isn't among them) have signed an international convention barring production, use, or transfer of cluster munitions. "No to cluster bombs and yes to the legitimate defense of Ukraine," Margarita Robles, Spain's defense minister, said Friday, per the BBC. Even the US has a ban on using cluster bombs with a dud rate of more than 1% rate—a ban Biden bypassed Friday by invoking the Foreign Assistance Act.

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Per Politico, even top Democratic lawmakers in the US are voicing their opposition to the Biden administration's move, including Rep. Betty McCollum of Missouri, the ranking member of the House's defense appropriations subcommittee, called the decision an "unnecessary and ... terrible mistake." "These weapons should be eliminated from our stockpiles, not dumped in Ukraine," she said in a statement. Meanwhile, three GOP lawmakers—Rep. Michael McCaul, who heads up the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Sen. Roger Wicker, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and Sen. James Risch, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—called Biden's decision "long overdue," noting the cluster bombs "will help fill a key gap for Ukraine's military," per the Post. (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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