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Friday, February 23, 2024
Feb. 23, 2024

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Schram: Messaging dud on cluster bombs


On March 2, 2022, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations stood in front of the iconic green marble backdrop of the United Nations General Assembly and delivered a tough message that the Biden administration wanted all the world to hear.

Today, more than a year later, you can still hear Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s speech in its entirety on YouTube: “We have seen videos of Russian forces moving exceptionally lethal weaponry into Ukraine, which has no place on the battlefield. That includes cluster munitions and vacuum bombs, which are banned under the Geneva Convention.”

But you can’t read it in its entirety today in the official transcript.

That’s because, after she spoke, a Biden administration official figured it might be worthwhile to try to come just a bit closer at making their message match reality. After all, while more than 100 countries signed on to the Geneva Convention ban on cluster weapons, Russia and the United States never did.

So two days after Thomas-Greenfield’s firm speech, the State Department deleted her line about how those weapons have “no place on the battlefield” from its official transcript of the speech. The officials also inserted an asterisk, explaining in a footnote that the Geneva Convention ban only applied to using cluster munitions against civilians. Recently, it became clear that from now on, it’s Joe Biden’s asterisk.

In an internationally controversial decision that Biden called difficult but necessary, he announced that he was providing Ukraine with the ground launched cluster munitions that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has desperately and urgently sought, to drop them on his own land.

The U.S.-supplied, ground launched cluster munitions are to be used only against the Russian troops that have invaded. And they are now literally entrenched in Ukraine territory that Russia seized after more than a year of massive use of Russia’s own cluster artillery and bombs against innocent Ukraine civilians.

I agree with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and most other military experts that Biden made the right decision — because he had run out of options. The United States had depleted its available arsenal of non-cluster bomb munitions.

But Biden’s top advisers have squandered the one weapon they always had available — their own wartime message communication, command and control. They failed to fully mobilize an educated public.

America’s artillery and other weapon production problems were long known by experts. In 2022, the Center for Strategic and International Studies “examined the ability of the defense industrial base to replace inventories in an emergency and found that the process would take many years for most items.”

Biden has not been well served by his policy message and public education experts. For the past year they failed to communicate the huge differences that exist between Russia’s and America’s cluster bombs, which explode in the air and scatter projectiles at targets below.

Russia’s cluster munitions have perilous dud rates of 30 percent to 40 percent — unexploded bombs or grenades that can later explode just as undiscovered land mines often do. The United States cluster munition dud rate is said to be 2.5 percent.

Most importantly, Biden officials have not been publicly explaining just how they intend to assure that Ukraine’s use of U.S. cluster munitions will be only targeted at Russia’s military occupiers. And Biden should promise that, when the war ends, America will join Ukraine in ridding the land of its perilous duds.

Ukraine’s men, women, children and seniors have been helpless when they were targeted by Russia’s cluster bombs. But Russia’s invading and entrenched occupying troops always have a surefire way of no longer being killed or maimed by Ukraine launches of United States cluster munitions: Just end their civilian-slaughtering invasion and go home. Or it’s their asterisk.