Jacobs, Keating, McGovern, and Colleagues Call on President to Ban Use of Cluster Munitions by the U.S. Military
Washington, April 22, 2022
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (D-CA-53), Congressman Bill Keating (D-MA-9), and Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA-2) led a letter to President Joe Biden urging his Administration to ban the use of cluster munitions and take all the necessary steps for the United States to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The three Members were joined on the letter by an additional twenty-four Members of the House.
United States policy towards cluster munitions has become a renewed focus given the use of cluster munitions on civilian targets by Russian forces in Ukraine continue. The use of cluster munitions by Russian forces in Ukraine has killed or maimed upwards of 80,000 people since the 1960s. These munitions – which randomly scatter smaller submunitions over a large area – are particularly hazardous for civilians as many of them can remain dormant for decades before unexpectedly detonating.
The letter stated in part:
“U.S. policy on cluster munitions as it stands is wholly unacceptable, given what we know about the immediate and long-term damage done to societies on which they are deployed...and prior U.S. justifications for their use are no longer relevant. These types of wide area effect munitions are inappropriate for use in today’s urban conflicts. Cluster munitions have further lost their military relevance as the U.S. military strives to mitigate civilian deaths in war through guided munitions. It is beyond time for the United States to join the international community’s efforts to prohibit all use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions, and we call on the Administration to reverse its current policy.”
United States policy toward cluster munitions has shifted in recent years. In 2008, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates imposed restrictions on our military’s use of these munitions. However, that was later overturned in 2017, just over a year before our self-imposed ban on cluster munitions would go into effect. This letter states that previous U.S. policy of using existing stockpiles of these munitions until more advanced munitions are developed and fielded is wrong. Instead, the Administration should halt the use, production, sale, and transfer of these munitions, take the necessary steps to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions and update U.S. policy toward cluster munitions in order to avoid the human devastation they create during modern warfare.
The full text of the letter is as follows:
Dear President Biden,
The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe held a hearing investigating early signs of potential war crimes committed by Russia against Ukraine. This is merely the first of many American and international investigations into the horrific images we have all seen across social media and our televisions. These scenes are shocking, abhorrent, and require comprehensive measures to hold Russia fully accountable for its actions. During the hearing, the expert witnesses provided substantial evidence that Russian forces have used cluster munitions in heavily populated areas, killing and injuring civilians. Innocent lives have been lost, and the people of Ukraine live in fear of further attacks and continue to suffer the effects of those that have occurred.
In particular, we strongly believe the credible allegations of Russian use of cluster munitions necessitate a change to the Administration’s cluster munitions policy and a revision of DoD’s 2017 Policy on Cluster Munitions. While the U.S. has not used cluster munitions since the entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2010, the previous administration rolled back some self-imposed restrictions, effectively reserving the right to use even the most unreliable cluster munitions in our arsenal. As of 2017, current U.S. policy states that the military is permitted to use the existing stock of cluster munitions until sufficient quantities of “enhanced and more reliable” versions are developed and fielded.
U.S. policy on cluster munitions as it stands is wholly unacceptable, given what we know about the immediate and long-term damage done to societies on which they are deployed. Cluster munitions disperse large numbers of submunitions indiscriminately over an extended area, endangering civilians at the time of attack. In addition, many submunitions fail to detonate on impact and remain explosive hazards for decades. Thus, cluster munitions pose a serious threat to civilians both during as well as long after a conflict. Various estimates for casualties in cluster munition-affected countries globally since the 1960s are roughly between 56,000 and 86,000.
Cluster munitions are also unnecessary and prior U.S. justifications for their use are no longer relevant. These types of wide area effect munitions are inappropriate for use in today’s urban conflicts. Cluster munitions have further lost their military relevance as the U.S. military strives to mitigate civilian deaths in war through guided munitions. It is beyond time for the United States to join the international community’s efforts to prohibit all use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions, and we call on the Administration to reverse its current policy.
With these considerations in mind, Mr. President we urge you to take all the necessary steps to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use, transfer, stockpiling and production of cluster munitions. While 110 states are party to the Convention, including many allies of the U.S., the U.S. has not joined the Convention. There is no reason that the U.S., with the largest and most sophisticated military in the world, should use such barbaric and indiscriminate weapons. In keeping with the Convention, the Administration should work, in coordination with Congress, to halt the use, production and stockpiling of such munitions and eventually dispose of the cluster munitions already in our arsenal.
President Biden, the destruction we have seen in Ukraine cannot be tolerated in Ukraine or anywhere else around the world. The United States takes pride in its leading efforts to promote human rights and democratic values around the world. Banning cluster munitions is an immediate step the United States can take to will these efforts and uphold U.S. values in the international community. We greatly appreciate your swift attention to this matter and look forward to working with you to alleviate the suffering of innocent civilians globally.
William R. Keating, Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Member of Congress Member of Congress Subcommittee for Europe, Energy, the Environment and Cyber
James P. McGovern, Member of Congress
Sara Jacobs, Member of Congress
Earl Blumenauer, Member of Congress
Barbara Lee, Member of Congress
Katie Porter, Member of Congress
Andy Levin, Member of Congress
Ilhan Omar, Member of Congress
Rashida Tlaib, Member of Congress
Juan Vargas, Member of Congress
Eleanor Holmes Norton, Member of Congress
Jan Schakowsky, Member of Congress
Pramila Jayapal, Member of Congress
Zoe Lofgren, Member of Congress
Raúl M. Grijalva, Member of Congress
Colin Z. Allred, Member of Congress
Ted W. Lieu, Member of Congress
Tom Malinowski, Member of Congress
Ro Khanna, Member of Congress
Jim Costa, Member of Congress
Albio Sires, Member of Congress
Grace Meng, Member of Congress
Gerald E. Connolly, Member of Congress
Adam B. Schiff, Member of Congress
Steve Cohen, Member of Congress
Jackie Speier, Member of Congress
Ayanna Pressley, Member of Congress