Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who also participated in last month’s conference, confirmed that Ukrainian officials in Munich urged US lawmakers to press the White House to provide Kyiv with cluster munitions. He said he would do so this week.
The congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ukrainian officials also privately have been lobbying lawmakers in Washington to press for White House approval.
“That’s not going to happen,” Smith said, referring to Biden administration signoff.
Since the start of the conflict Ukraine has asked for – and largely received – weapons that the US initially refused, including HIMARS missile launchers, Patriot air defence batteries and Abrams tanks. But cluster munitions could be a step too far for the administration and some in Congress.
Opponents argue that when bomblets scatter they can maim and kill civilians and have high failure rates, with duds posing a danger for years after a conflict ends.
A 2008 pact prohibiting the production, use and stockpiling of cluster munitions has been adopted by 123 countries, including most of NATO’s 28 members. The United States, Russia and Ukraine have declined to join.
Giving the Ukrainians “a banned weapon would undermine their moral authority in a way that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin would exploit,” said Tom Malinowski, a former congressman who served as the top State Department human rights official.
But there is some support in Congress. The congressional aide said most Republicans “are fairly amenable” to Ukraine’s requests.
“This is a war where (the Ukrainians) are outmanned,” Graham told Reuters. “And cluster munitions really are pretty lethal to mass formations as well as armor. In the areas where they are going to use this stuff there are no civilians.”
A 2009 law bans exports of US cluster munitions with bomblet failure rates higher than 1 per cent, which covers virtually all of the US military stockpile. US President Joe Biden can waive the prohibition.
Ukrainian and Russian forces both have used such weapons since Russia first seized Ukrainian territory in 2014, according to news reports and human rights groups.
The US Army is spending more than US$6 million a year to decommission 155 mm cluster artillery shells and other older munitions, according to budget documents
Providing DCIPMs would ease shortages of other kinds of 155 mm shells that Washington has been shipping to Kyiv in massive quantities, the congressional aide said.
Crow said he opposed providing the DCIPMs to Ukraine because of the high failure rate of the bomblets, which would worsen Ukraine’s already massive unexploded ordnance problem.
The State Department says that some 174,000 square-kilometres of territory – nearly one-third of Ukraine – are contaminated by landmines or other “explosive remnants of war.”