Over the last 18 months, there has been growing bipartisan movement in the House toward prohibiting the production, sale, transfer, and use of cluster munitions.
Recent amendment proposals to annual “must-pass” bills, along with congressional letters to the Biden administration, have highlighted the expanding support among U.S. lawmakers for the worldwide ban of these harmful, indiscriminate weapons.
In 2022, 96% of cluster munition casualties were civilians, and two-thirds of that number were children.
Cluster munitions are designed to scatter small bomblets over large areas, increasing the risk they fall in civilian areas and outweighing any military benefits of their use. Civilians and children are disproportionately harmed. In 2022, 96% of cluster munition casualties were civilians, and two-thirds of that number were children.
Currently, the U.S. is not among the 124 signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, even with 18 NATO allies having signed or ratified the Convention. Despite this global consensus on the inhumanity of cluster munitions, the United States remains an outlier in allowing the continued transfer and use of these immoral weapons. The Biden administration’s initial decision in July to send stockpiled U.S. cluster munitions to Ukraine further exacerbated this concerning state of affairs.
Positive Momentum in Congress
In April 2022, Reps. Bill Keating (MA-9), Jim McGovern (MA-2), and Sara Jacobs (CA-51) led 24 members of Congress in a letter urging President Biden to ban the use of cluster munitions and to take all necessary steps to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions in light of the harm caused by the weapons during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Eight months later, Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT) joined the same lawmakers in leading a bicameral letter urging the administration to ban the development, sale, and use of these weapons.
Prompted by this positive momentum and concern over the Biden administration’s transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine, bipartisan amendments to ban the transfer of cluster munitions were offered in the annual military policy bill (H.R. 4365). These were followed by amendments by Reps. Jacobs and Matt Gaetz (FL-1) to the annual Pentagon spending bill (H.R. 2670), and by Reps. McGovern and Thomas Massie (KY-4) to the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act (H.R. 4665).
The United States remains an outlier in allowing the continued transfer and use of these immoral weapons.
Speaking on the House floor, Rep. Gaetz emphasized that, “These cluster bombs are indiscriminate. They’ve killed tens of thousands of people.” Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-4) added in a statement, “The legacy of cluster bombs is misery, death, and expensive cleanup after generations of use.” Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-12) stressed, “We are still spending millions of dollars to clean up cluster munitions used in Southeast Asia decades ago. We cannot be complicit in their further spread.”
Despite impassioned efforts, the amendments failed to pass. But support rose with each vote. A measure by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA-14) focused solely on banning transfers to Ukraine received 147 “yes” votes. The Gaetz-Jacobs amendment garnered 160 affirmative votes and the Massie-McGovern amendment received 178. In total, 214 House members voted in favor of at least one of the three amendments, comprising 114 Republicans and 100 Democrats. and 100 Democrats.
With clear bipartisan support on this issue, Congress must continue to work collaboratively to ban the transfer and use of these weapons and accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. This immoral dichotomy cannot continue unchecked.