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Why Dems should support Rep. Greene's more narrow cluster weapons ban

Despite late night rules committee switch, the need to prevent sending these weapons to Ukraine prevails over politics.

Analysis | Washington Politics

UPDATE 7/14: The vote on the cluster munitions amendment, which would have prevented any of the weapons from being sent to Ukraine, was defeated late Thursday night by a vote of 147-276 — with 49 Democrats joining 98 Republicans in favor of the measure.

Late in the evening of July 12, while the rest of Washington was sound asleep, Congress was hard at work finalizing amendments to the FY 2024 National Defense Authorization Act. Sadly, while the late night for Congress was atypical, the work of undermining good legislation and, thereby the will of the American people, was not. 

The House Rules Committee used the cloak of the evening to silently remove an amendment to the NDAA by Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), which would have banned the U.S. from exporting cluster munitions to any country across the globe.

Why? Quite simply, it appeared that the amendment had too much support, as the final tally of co-sponsors reached 12, including two Republicans, mainly in reaction to last week's announcement that the Biden administration is providing cluster munitions to Ukraine — marking the first time the U.S. has transferred this highly controversial weapon since Congress imposed an export ban in 2009.

Replacing Rep. Jacobs’ amendment is a similar, yet more narrow amendment from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), which only bans the export of cluster munitions to Ukraine.

Despite this bait and switch, and despite our support for banning all transfers, the Quincy Institute is encouraging members to support Rep. Greene’s amendment co-sponsored by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).

While the global ban would be ideal, the Greene amendment marks an essential step in curtailing a seemingly endless flow of escalatory weapons to Ukraine — a notion that seems to be gaining bipartisan steam on the Hill.

Over the last week, Democratic lawmakers and allied outside groups have joined Republicans in the House to harshly criticize the Biden administration’s decision to send these cluster munitions to Ukraine. This marked a fairly dramatic shift in how Democrats have been talking about the war until now. Congress should continue to show unity on this issue for the following reasons: 

1.) Cluster submunitions are indiscriminate weapons that cause disproportionate harm to civilians in war zones. That’s why 123 countries, including 23 NATO members, are party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions banning these weapons’ use, production, transfer, and stockpiling. 

2.) Proceeding with this transfer will cost the U.S. the moral high ground in the eyes of the world. Further, this high cost to the U.S. reputation will be done without the Biden administration having defined our objective in Ukraine. 

3.) The Biden administration’s reversal on cluster munitions is a mistake that civilians in Ukraine will pay for — with life and limb — for years to come.

4.) Additionally, the tactical utility of these weapons is — at best — overstated, and the DoD’s rosy estimates of the low “dud rates” of U.S. DPICM transfers will inevitably prove wrong, as they have before. 

5.) The idea that this war is exceptional and warrants exceptional weapons is a slippery slope, as is the argument that they “need” this weapon to counter a dug-in Russian force. These same arguments could be made for providing, chemical and biological weapons, and nuclear weapons.

It’s wrong when Russia uses these weapons, it’s wrong when Ukraine uses them, and it’s wrong when the United States uses them. However, transferring these immoral and indiscriminate munitions to Ukraine, a country with a history of avoiding accountability, risks opening a Pandora’s box that no one knows if we can close.

Editor's note: this story has been updated to reflect the 2009 congressional export ban on cluster munitions.

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