'A line we should not cross': Democrats divided over Biden admin.'s decision to send 'cluster bombs' to Ukraine

An aerial view of the Pentagon in Washington. | REUTERS/Jason Reed

The Biden administration's move to send cluster bombs to Ukraine is receiving condemnation and support from both sides of the aisle as an amendment introduced to the National Defense Authorization Act seeks to ban such a transfer. 

The U.S. Department of Defense announced in a statement Friday that it was providing an additional security assistance package of up to $800 million to Ukraine, which has health with a Russian invasion that began in February 2022.

The package contains "dual-purpose improved conventional munitions, or DPICM, which the Pentagon is providing for the first time to Ukraine after extensive consultation with Congress and U.S. allies."

"The newly fielded munitions, which will be drawn from Defense Department stocks, are designed to disperse submunitions from the air, allowing Ukraine to target broad swaths of entrenched Russian troops and equipment," the DOD noted.

Colin H. Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, cited the munitions as necessary to meet "the urgency of the moment" and "make sure that the Ukrainians have the confidence that they have what they need" while letting "Russians know that Ukrainians are going to stay in the game."

The DOD acknowledged the "potential risk the rounds could pose to the civilian population in areas where the rounds are deployed," determining that the munitions have "a dud rate, or rate of unexploded submunitions released from each round, of 2.35%." By contrast, the cluster munitions used by Russia throughout the conflict have dud rates as high as 40%.

The announcement has drawn pushback from congressional Democrats and some Republicans, though Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services have favored sending cluster munitions to Ukraine. 

Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., introduced an amendment to the NDAA that would ban the U.S. from providing military assistance in the form of cluster munitions. While it is unclear if the Jacobs amendment will receive a vote, Axios reports that it has received the support of Republicans Matt Gaetz and Anna Paulina Luna of Florida and over a dozen House Democrats.

When asked why his administration decided to provide Ukraine with so-called "cluster bombs" after previously hesitating to do so, Biden bluntly declared that "the Ukrainians are running out of ammunition" in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria that aired over the weekend.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.., an outspoken critic of prolonged foreign conflicts who is challenging Biden for the Democratic nomination for president, sent out a tweet Sunday reacting to Biden's interview with Zakaria. He described Biden's contention that Ukraine is "running out of other munitions" as "a pretext for even more military spending." He insisted that "the time has come to offer diplomatic alternatives to war + bring both sides to the negotiating table."

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who represents the second-most Democratic congressional district in the country and is currently running for the U.S. Senate, asserted in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper that "cluster bombs should never be used." According to Lee, "That's crossing a line."

"We know what takes place in terms of cluster bombs being very dangerous to civilians," she added. "They don't always immediately explode. Children can step on them. That's a line we should not cross."

Lee stressed that she believed Biden is "doing a good job managing this war" while reiterating her opposition to using cluster bombs by stating, "this should not happen."

While Lee declined to characterize the Biden administration's embrace of cluster bombs as a war crime, she expressed concern that "we would risk losing our moral leadership" by sending them to Ukraine. 

"I'm hoping that the administration would reconsider this because these are very dangerous bombs, they're very dangerous weapons and this is a line that I don't believe we should cross," she concluded.

Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Kelly of Arizona and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois voiced support for the provision of cluster bombs.

"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, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. "It is our responsibility as a world power and democratic leader to continue to support the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their democracy and freedom."

Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, took to Twitter Sunday to react to what he described as a "stunning admission from Biden" and "something I've been warning about for over a year."

Vance said Biden's declaration that Ukraine is running out of ammunition is evidence that "the Ukraine war is a massive drain on our national security." The senator lamented the current state of the U.S. national defense.

"In a generation we've gone from the 'arsenal of democracy' to 'can't supply enough artillery shells for a regional conflict in Eastern Europe.' And yet there are people who pretend we can focus on both East Asia and Russia simultaneously. What a joke."

"This is also why letting Ukraine into NATO — especially now — is a massive mistake," he added. "Neoconservatives want to sign us up for a war with Russia when we don't… make enough artillery shells for someone else to use? I'm so sick of the bipartisan absence of wisdom on this war."

As Vance suggested, even as members of both parties express reservations about the distribution of cluster bombs to Ukraine and/or the path the U.S. has taken to address the conflict in general, many on Capitol Hill remain supportive of continued U.S. involvement.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told CNN sending cluster bombs "would be a game-changer" because "Russia is dropping with impunity cluster bombs" on Ukrainian territory.

"All the Ukrainians and (President Volodymyr) Zelensky are asking for is to give them the same weapons the Russians have to use in their own country against Russians who are in their own country," McCaul said. "They do not want these to be used in Russia."

As the Biden administration unveiled its plans to send cluster bombs to Ukraine, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., signaled his desire to "pass a resolution urging the admission of Ukraine into NATO."

Graham's fellow Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, responded to that suggestion by proclaiming "Absolutely not. This is exactly wrong — as usual — and could very well lead us to war with Russia, something no one should want."

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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