A deadly cluster bomb tested in South Korea (Picture: Republic of Korea Armed Forces)

The decision by Joe Biden’s administration to supply Ukraine with cluster munitions definitively settles the debate about the nature of the war. Only a fool or a knave can now deny that thw US is waging a proxy war against Russia.

Cluster munitions are not defensive weapons. They are designed to kill as many people as possible. They leave behind unexploded bomblets that kill or maim civilians, especially children, long after the war is over.

The decision to supply them shocked even the BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, normally a reliable apologist for the British state. He said, “Cluster munitions are a hideous, indiscriminate weapon that is banned in much of the world for good reason.”

The key point, however, is not simply that cluster munitions are barbarous—they are offensive weapons. Gardner explains, “The Ukrainians now face a daunting task in trying to dislodge the invading Russians from their well dug-in defensive positions stretched along a 621 mile battlefront. In the absence of enough artillery shells, Ukraine has asked the US to re-stock its supplies of cluster munitions to target the Russian infantry manning all those defensive trenches.”

So the US is arming Ukraine to drive the Russian occupying forces back and retake territory, possibly including Crimea. The more successful this assault is, the greater the risk that Vladimir Putin, badly weakened by the failed Prigozhin coup, might decide to resort to nuclear weapons. 

And let no one tell you that it’s a “moral imperative” to supply Ukraine with whatever weapons its government says it needs. Nuclear war is a mortal threat to everyone on the planet.

It’s true that the Chinese government has been briefing that president Xi Jinping warned Putin not to use nuclear weapons when he visited Moscow in March. Given that Russia is heavily dependent on China to bypass Western sanctions, this offers some reassurance. But only up to a point. 

There is no precedent to guide us about what the ruler of a thermonuclear state would do if their political and personal survival were threatened. But Biden won’t give Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky everything he wants. The United States and Germany are resisting pressure from the right wing governments of central and eastern Europe for Nato to commit itself to admitting Ukraine at this week’s summit of the alliance in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The US and Germany are wary of perpetuating hostilities with Russia even after Putin. Russia’s elite are largely opposed to having Nato on their long border with Ukraine. And, under article five of the North Atlantic Treaty, Nato would find it hard to stay out of direct participation in any future war.

The US, Britain, Germany, and France—Turkey aside, Nato’s biggest military powers—are drafting a package of commitments to Ukraine falling short of full membership. 

According to the Financial Times, “Some officials have pitched the commitments as an ‘Israeli model’ akin to the overt military support Washington provides to the Jewish state. The US currently commits to making sure Israel has a ‘qualitative military edge’ in the Middle East and signs memorandums of understanding every 10 years. Officials envision Ukraine could have something similar.”

Zelensky himself said in April 2022, “We will definitely become a ‘big Israel’ with its own face. We will not be surprised that we will have representatives of the Armed Forces or the National Guard in all institutions, supermarkets, cinemas, there will be people with weapons.”

No doubt he would like to have his cake and eat it—Nato membership plus Israel-scale military aid from the US. But if the US and Germany refuse, he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Biden wants to continue squeezing Putin while avoiding a wider war.

Meanwhile, he has to keep onside the central and east European states. They are shrilly belligerent but—apart from Poland—negligible in real power terms. The Baltic States represent less than 0.5 percent of European Union national income. In any case, by supplying cluster munitions to Ukraine he’s tilted the balance towards a wider war.

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