President Biden’s decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine has angered a wide swath of Democrats, who are accusing his administration of making a hypocritical decision that risked the moral standing of the United States.
The move answered a monthslong clamor from congressional Republicans to supply Kyiv with the weapons, but Mr. Biden’s political allies denounced it.
“A victory for Ukraine is an essential victory for democracies across the globe, but that victory cannot come at the expense of our American values and thus democracy itself,” Representative Chrissy Houlahan, Democrat of Pennsylvania and an Air Force veteran who co-chairs a bipartisan congressional caucus on unexploded ordinance and demining, said in a statement on Friday. “I challenge the notion that we should employ the same tactics Russia is using, blurring the lines of moral high ground.”
She and other Democrats argued that cluster munitions of the kind the administration plans to send to Ukraine pose indiscriminate harm to civilians long after they are used in combat.
The weapons “disperse hundreds of bomblets, which can travel far beyond military targets and injure, maim and kill civilians — often long after a conflict is over,” said Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts. In a statement, he pointed out that several NATO members — though not the United States — are parties to an international treaty banning their use.
The few Republicans who spoke about Mr. Biden’s decision on Friday, however, praised him for taking what they said was a necessary step.
“For Ukrainian forces to defeat Putin’s invasion, Ukraine needs at least equal access to the weapons Russia already uses against them, like cluster munitions,” Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, said in a statement. “Providing this new capability is the right decision — even if it took too long — and is one I’ve long supported.”
For months, the top Republicans on the Senate and House foreign affairs and armed services committees — Representatives Michael McCaul of Texas and Mike Rogers of Alabama and Senators James Risch of Idaho and Roger Wicker of Mississippi — have been calling on the Biden administration to provide Ukraine with dual-purpose improved conventional munitions, of the sort that were approved on Friday.
In a joint letter to Mr. Biden in March, the four wrote that the weapons “will allow Ukraine to compensate for Russia’s quantitative advantage in both personnel and artillery rounds, and will allow the Ukrainian Armed Forces to concentrate their use of unitary warheads against higher-value Russian targets.”
They added that the munitions “could help fill a key gap for Ukraine’s military, and, in concert with other provided capabilities, continue to push Putin’s forces out of Ukraine.”
But most Democrats maintained that even if that were true, the cluster munitions would compromise the greater goal of building a durable Ukrainian state.
“Cluster munitions prevent the successful economic rebuilding and recovery that’s needed to ensure a prosperous Ukraine and maintain anti-corruption gains,” Representative Sara Jacobs, Democrat of California, said in a statement. She joined this week with Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, to introduce legislation prohibiting exports of cluster munitions as military assistance. The duo plan to propose the measure as an amendment to the annual defense bill when the House considers it next week.