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U.S. to Send Cluster Munitions to Ukraine
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U.S. to Send Cluster Munitions to Ukraine

The transfer of the powerful but dangerous weaponry sparks controversy at home and abroad.

Happy Tuesday! Congratulations to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and all, but the real Home Run Derby took place last night on West Potomac Park Field No. 3, where our softball team secured a 21-4 victory over an unnamed think tank.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed to ask his parliament to greenlight Sweden’s bid for NATO membership, which—if Erdoğan follows through—would end more than a year of Turkish opposition to the move. It’s unclear what Turkey would secure in exchange, but expediting its European Union membership talks and lifting certain defense-related sanctions were reportedly part of the negotiations. Hungary remains the only other holdout blocking Sweden from joining the 31-member alliance, but Budapest’s opposition is likely to evaporate once Turkey’s concerns are assuaged. The announcement comes just ahead of the annual NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, which begins today.
  • The European Union and the United States finalized an agreement on Monday creating an independent watchdog staffed by U.S. judges to review complaints from EU citizens who believe U.S. intelligence agencies have improperly collected their online data. The agreement secures tech companies’ ability to transfer personal data between the U.S. and EU, a common practice thrown into legal limbo after the EU’s Court of Justice struck down a previous agreement in 2020.
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin on June 29, just five days after the mercenary group’s abandoned mutiny. Peskov claimed approximately 35 people—including Wagner battalion commanders—attended the three-hour meeting and that the Wagner contingent pledged their loyalty to Putin and “the motherland.” Meanwhile, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov—Russia’s top military commander whom Prigozhin allegedly sought to overthrow—appeared on Russian state television in his first public appearance since the short-lived revolt. 
  • The Solomon Islands opened an embassy in Beijing on Monday, deepening ties with China after the U.S. reopened its own embassy in the Solomon Islands’ capital, Honiara, in February as part of a push to counter Beijing’s influence in the region. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is on a weeklong visit to Beijing—where he’s met with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang—four years after his country cut ties with Taiwan to normalize relations with China
  • David Weiss, the federal prosecutor who has led the Justice Department’s investigation into Hunter Biden, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a letter yesterday that he did not request special counsel status, contradicting the claims of Gary Shapley, an IRS whistleblower who has alleged political interference in the probe. Weiss said that he consulted some Justice Department officials about special attorney authority to bring charges in jurisdictions outside his own and that the department assured him he would have the authority should it prove necessary.
  • Also Monday, the Justice Department announced charges against Gal Luft, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen who claimed to have incriminating information about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China. Luft—whose assertions House Republicans have repeatedly cited in their investigations—was indicted on eight counts yesterday, including Iranian sanctions violations, lying to federal agents, and an alleged failure to register as a foreign agent while “advanc[ing] the interests of the People’s Republic of China.” Luft was arrested in Cyprus back in February, but allegedly skipped bail during the extradition process and is now a fugitive.
  • U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty rejected a motion from the Justice Department on Monday attempting to delay his wide-ranging injunction that temporarily prohibits government agencies and officials from communicating with social media platforms about restricting speech online. The DOJ then requested the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issue a stay on the injunction, setting the case on a potential path to the Supreme Court.
  • Gen. David Berger stepped down as commandant of the Marine Corps yesterday at the end of his four-year term, leaving the force without a leader for the first time in more than a century as Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville continues to block all military promotions in protest of a Defense Department policy facilitating abortion access for service members. President Joe Biden nominated Gen. Eric Smith, the current assistant commandant, in May to fill the position, and he will serve as acting leader until he is confirmed by the Senate.
  • Several potential down-ballot 2024 candidates threw their hats into the ring on Monday. In Nevada, retired Army Capt. Sam Brown—who was severely injured by an explosion in Afghanistan—announced he’s running to replace Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen, setting up a GOP primary contest with failed 2022 Nevada secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant. Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez launched a campaign to oust GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, joining U.S. Rep. Colin Allred in the Democratic primary. In Michigan, actor Hill Harper confirmed he is entering the Democratic primary to succeed the retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

The Cluster Bomb Controversy

The remains of artillery shells and missiles, including cluster munitions, are stored in Toretsk, Ukraine. (Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images)
The remains of artillery shells and missiles, including cluster munitions, are stored in Toretsk, Ukraine. (Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images)

When Russia began dropping cluster bombs on Ukraine in March 2022, international condemnation swiftly followed. “We have seen videos of Russian forces moving exceptionally lethal weaponry into Ukraine, which has no place on the battlefield,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations. “That includes cluster munitions.”

Last week, the Biden administration announced it’d do the same, sending cluster munitions to the Ukrainian military as part of the next $800 million aid package. The U.S. quickly updated Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks to clarify it considers the bombs’ use illegal only when targeted at civilians, but the awkward clarification reflects the controversial nature of the materiel. Although useful, the munitions are particularly dangerous to civilians—and Ukraine will have to navigate the tradeoffs as it uses the weapons to push forward its lagging counteroffensive.

First deployed during World War II and used prominently during the Vietnam War, cluster munitions are a category of air-dropped or ground-launched explosives that release smaller explosives as they detonate—picture a bomb exploding into grenades that fall and detonate on an area the size of a city block. They can cover vastly more ground in one strike than precision weapons, making them particularly useful for hitting fast-moving or dispersed targets.

Even in the best of conditions, a handful of the “bomblets” hit the ground wrong and fail to explode. But the dud rates skyrocket in bad conditions—old munitions, soft ground, variable air temperature, high winds. Pentagon officials say they’ll send only weapons with recent tests indicating a dud rate below 2.35 percent, leaving older munitions with higher failure rates in the stockpiles. Russia and Ukraine haven’t been quite as choosy: Soviet-era cluster munitions already used in the conflict have a dud rate as high as 40 percent.

Congress has banned the sale or transfer of cluster bombs with dud rates above 1 percent, but President Biden invoked a Foreign Assistance Act provision allowing him to waive that requirement for vital national security reasons. Pentagon officials, for their part, haven’t yet specified how many rounds will be included in the next tranche of aid. “We recognize that cluster munitions create risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance,” said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. “This is why we deferred the decision for as long as we could. But there is also a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians because Ukraine does not have enough artillery.”

Whatever the exact dud rate, those unexploded “bomblets” don’t disappear—and they can still detonate years later, often killing civilians. Kids are especially at risk, as small canisters in bright colors designed to increase detection by cleanup crews can instead look like a toy. In the 50 years since the U.S. dropped its last cluster munition in the near-decade-long bombing of Laos, the unexploded ordnance left behind has killed more than 20,000 people—about half of them children—and elementary school students practice cluster munition identification in class.

Mindful of the cost to civilians, more than 100 countries—though not the U.S., Russia, or Ukraine—have signed a pledge not to use cluster munitions, and the blowback to Biden’s decision has been swift and loud, even among allies—foreign and domestic. “No to cluster bombs and yes to the legitimate defense of Ukraine,” Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles told Politico. The United Kingdom “discourages” the use of cluster munitions, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak raised the issue during a meeting with Biden on Monday. Rep. Betty McCollum—ranking Democrat on the House’s defense appropriations subcommittee—called the move a “terrible mistake,” adding that the legacy of the munitions is “misery, death and expensive cleanup generations after their use.” Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told Fox News he has “real qualms” about the decision, voicing concerns it will encourage other nations to expand their own use of cluster munitions.

To these objections, Biden offered a simple response—we don’t have a good alternative. “[The Ukrainians are] trying to get through those trenches and stop those tanks from rolling,” he told CNN Friday. “And they’re running out of that ammunition, and we’re low on it.” He said the move is intended to tide Ukraine over until Western countries can produce enough 155mm artillery ammunition to keep up with the Ukrainian military’s expenditures.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s counteroffensive is making slow headway against dug-in Russian positions that are expensive to target individually. “This is about keeping Ukraine in the fight,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told ABC News on Sunday. “You talk to President Zelensky about the counteroffensive, and in some ways, it’s not going as fast as he would like.”

Russia and Ukraine have already been using cluster munitions. Ukrainian officials say they avoid striking civilian targets, though their cluster munition strikes reportedly killed eight in occupied Izium last year, according to Human Rights Watch. Russian cluster bomb attacks have damaged homes, hospitals, and schools, and killed more than 58 civilians at a crowded train station in April 2022. The unexploded ordnance—plus unmarked landmines across swaths of Ukrainian territory—will require expensive cleanup even without additional cluster munition supplies. Ukrainian leaders have promised not to deploy the weapons on the “officially recognized” territory of Russia.

Defense analysts Eric Edelman and Franklin Miller addressed these concerns in a piece on the site in May urging the administration to send cluster munitions. “The humanitarian argument against providing [cluster bombs] is that the U.S. should not contribute to civilian casualties in aiding Ukraine,” they wrote. “Eastern Ukraine will already require a massive cleanup effort after the war is over. Ukrainian use of [cluster bombs] would be a drop in the bucket and arguably create less destruction and devastation than high explosive rounds. More pointedly, if the [cluster bombs] help Ukraine win the war by ejecting Russian forces from its territory, civilian deaths will decline dramatically.”

And lawmakers have pointed out that Ukraine is motivated to use the weapons responsibly. “It’s the Ukrainians who are asking to be able to use these on their own soil,” Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “They’ve committed to monitoring their use, to remediating them after the war. And frankly, they will be tactically helpful against dug-in Russian troops that are behind large mine fields. So, weighing all of those factors, the president made a tough call that I will support.”

Ukrainian leaders have been seeking the weapons for months, arguing their risks outweigh those posed by leaving territory under Russian occupation. “There is nothing worse than tortures, rapes and everything that Russians do on the territory they occupy,” Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova said Sunday. Plenty of lawmakers back this logic. “These weapons would be a game changer,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said on CNN’s State of the Union. “They want these as self-defense to use against Russians in their own country of Ukraine. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Worth Your Time

  • Thousands of old telephone wires wrapped in lead and steel are contaminating the ground and water in communities across the country, according to a new Wall Street Journal report. “The Journal’s investigation reveals a hidden source of contamination—more than 2,000 lead-covered cables—that hasn’t been addressed by the companies or environmental regulators,” it reads. “These relics of the old Bell System’s regional telephone network, and their impact on the environment, haven’t been previously reported. Lead levels in sediment and soil at more than four dozen locations tested by the Journal exceeded safety recommendations set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. At the New Iberia fishing spot, lead leaching into the sediment near a cable in June 2022 measured 14.5 times the EPA threshold for areas where children play. ‘We’ve been fishing here since we were kids,’ said Tyrin Jones, 27 years old, who grew up a few blocks away.”
  • Historians are abdicating their role as history’s honest brokers, historian Johann Neem argues in a piece for the Hedgehog Review taking on a new book of historical essays. “There is little that is tentative in this volume,” he writes. “The United States is an empire. American exceptionalism is a lie. The United States is xenophobic. There is no complexity. The world is divided into right and wrong, true and false, left and right. There is a lot of either/or but not much both/and. We find few good people doing bad things, much less flawed people achieving good things. Fortunately, most Americans have a much more nuanced understanding of American history than professional historians (or their most vocal right-wing opponents). Most Americans recognize that the past is complicated. We Americans know that we have much to atone for in our past, but also much to celebrate. Americans understand that we contain multitudes. It should give historians pause when the common sense of ordinary American people shows more appreciation for historical complexity than trained experts.” 

Presented Without Comment

Politico: Doug Burgum Is About to Drop Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars on Gift Cards to Qualify for the Debate

Also Presented Without Comment

Mediaite: George Santos Compares Himself to Rosa Parks in Wild Rant: “Neither Am I Gonna Sit in the Back”

Also Also Presented Without Comment

CNBC: AMC Says It Has Already Sold 20,000 Same-Day Tickets for the Barbie and Oppenheimer Double Feature

Toeing the Company Line

  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live (🔒) returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT! Declan will be joined by Kevin, Mike, and Audrey to discuss the news of the week and, of course, take plenty of viewer questions! Keep an eye out for an email later today with information on how to tune in.
  • In the newsletters: Kevin deconstructs (🔒) Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s dissent in the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision, the Dispatch Politics team dives into GOP Gov. Chris Sununu’s role in the New Hampshire primary, and Nick tears into (🔒) President Biden for his refusal to acknowledge his seventh grandchild.
  • On the podcasts: Adam is joined by Bonnie Glaser for a conversation about a potential conflict over Taiwan on The Dispatch Podcast, while Sarah and David catch up on all the non-SCOTUS legal news from the last few weeks for the latest Advisory Opinions.
  • On the site: Chris argues that Florida is the new capital of the GOP, Thomas Dorsey breaks down the importance of the upcoming GOP presidential primary debates, and Jonathan Schanzer warns of Chinese encroachment on the strategically important Micronesian island of Palau.

Let Us Know

Is the Biden administration making the correct decision by supplying Ukraine with cluster munitions? Do you think the move will save more innocent lives than it costs?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Jacob Wendler is an intern for The Dispatch.