Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons

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While most arms control agreements focus on weapons of mass destruction, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) deals with things that tend to deliver destruction on an individual, rather than mass, basis. [1]

  1. Non-detectable Fragments -- Protocol I prohibits the use of "any weapons the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which in the human body escape detection by X-rays."
  2. Landmines and Booby-traps -- Protocol II (Amended) regulates the use of landmines, booby-traps and other devices. In 1996, an amended Protocol II was adopted to significantly strengthen the restrictions on mines, booby-traps and other devices
  3. Incendiary Weapons -- Protocol III regulates the use of "any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons . . ."
  4. Blinding Lasers -- Protocol IV prohibits use of "laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision . . ."
  5. Explosive Remnants of War -- Protocol V addresses the threat posed by explosive remnants of war to civilians and civilian economies after conflicts end.

The CCW continues principles that go back to the Hague Conventions, around the turn of the twentieth century, which banned weapons considered exceptionally inhumane.

Non-detectable fragments

This is a relatively noncontroversial item, as there tend not to be weapons that would use fragmenting components that are not opaque to X-rays. Further, plastic and glass fragments incidental to a weapon's main design may show up on commonly available ultrasound.

Some very lightweight antipersonnel mines, usually intended to be scattered from aircraft or artillery, used plastic housings simply to save weight, but these are not stockpiled by any major militry power.

Landmines and booby-traps

Much of this topic is covered, in more detail, in the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, more commonly called the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty or Ottawa Treaty.[2] The intention of both of Protocol II in this Convention, and of the Ottawa treaty is to minimize risk to civilians. It is a complex issue, because advanced nations can make specialized mines that are active for a very brief tactical period, and then cannot be triggered by ordinary handling. This does take a specific design effort, and perhaps the greatest problem with civilian hazard from advanced weapons is not from purpose-built, even artillery-delivered mines, but with cluster submunitions that should, but do not, detonate on impact. That latter effect is more a matter of Protocol V than II.

Obviously, boobytraps and improvised explosive devices are in widespread use by non-national groups not bound by treaties.

Incendiary weapons

Incendiary weapons used against personnel, using burning liquid, probably have the most military utility of the weapons that may be restricted by this convention. Bluntly, one of the reasons for the use of these weapons is psychological; there is an inherent dread of fire that may force troops out of fortified positions. Flamethrowers are increasingly considered impractical as weapons, but there are arguments for both the tactical and psychological use of bombs or rockets filled with burning liquid. Napalm is a specific thickening agent for gasoline, which is technically inferior to other gelling agents; denials of napalm use may be technically true, but do not mean that a weapon with equivalent or greater use is not in effect.

Ironically, one of the military justifications for incendiaries used against personnel is once they have burned, they pose little hazard. An incendiary weapon may pose less residual effect than the types of concern in Protocols II and V.

Blinding weapons

At one time, blinding weapons were considered for warship defense against aircraft attacking, at close range, with autocannon, gravity bombs, or unguided rockets, but the potential has become irrelevant; aircraft attacking a ship whose technology could provide it with a blinding laser would use weapons with sufficient standoff distance to make such defenses impractical.

Laser designators, due to risk to friendly troops, are usually designed to be eye-safe. Some military devices, such as unmanned weather sensors, are not intended as weapons but are not eye-safe; new versions do consider eye safety.

Some systems called "blinding" are not intended to harm humans, but to burn out the infrared seeker of an air-to-air or surface-to-air missile. The AN/ALQ-157 could cause eye damage, but would be unlikely to be aimed directly at a person. Even civilian airliners are being equipped with lasers to damage the seeker of man-portable air defense systems, or shoulder-fired missiles considered to be a significant threat from terrorists. [3] The principle of operation of such countermeasures make it unlikely they would direct energy at an individual.

Residual effects