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Banned Weapons of Modern Warfare

Updated on April 17, 2012
Polish Gas Mask
Polish Gas Mask | Source

History Bears Its Scars...

The past century has provided ample evidence that technology and war are synergistic in a very deadly combination. Science has the ability to develop technologies, and some technologies are used to propel war onto unknown battlefields across the globe. Weapons of war are invented or become more effective when new technologies are discovered. When war occurs, technology gains insight to produce weapons specific to different environments and circumstances.

Landmines, nuclear weaponry, incendiary weapons, and chemical gases are the offspring of technology and warfare. Such terrifying weapons are currently banned or restricted under several treaties, and all are labeled as inhumane and/or indiscriminate for many reasons. Understanding the history and use of such devastating weapons provides insight into what warfare may become, and how mankind can prevent repeating mistakes.

Anti-Personnel Landmine
Anti-Personnel Landmine | Source

Anti-Personnel Landmines

Landmines. The word itself can bring about shuddering images of maimed soldiers and civilians who unfortunately encountered one of the world's most inhumane weapons. The anti-personnel landmine has a single goal in mind - to severely injure its victims. Landmines are activated by pressure and target the legs. The logic behind the design was that an injured soldier inflicts more damage in terms of resources and time, compared to a soldier who has been killed. Injured soldiers need to be cared and rehabilitated, consequently costing a lot of time and funding. Unfortunately, the logic of the anti-personnel landmine never considered innocent civilian casualties during and after periods of war. Many civilian casualties were, and continue to be, caused by children merely playing in a field and tripping the ignition switch of a landmine.

Landmines around the globe are stealthily lying below the soil, especially in poor war-torn countries of past and present. Locating and disarming anti-personnel landmines can be very difficult, because some mines consist mainly of plastic which are undetectable to metal detectors. According to the United Nations, a single landmine costs only a few dollars to produce but approximately a thousand dollars to disarm and remove from the ground. Minesweepers are deployed worldwide to rid landmines, but thousands of mines remain undetected. Funding can become limited to minesweeper teams which limits their ability to remove landmines.


Incendiary Weapons

Incendiary weapons are "any weapon meant to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat, or combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target" according to Protocol III of the Geneva Convention.

Napalm was first developed in 1942 by Harvard researchers, and then promptly used in the Second World War and the Vietnam War. Napalm was later banned under the Geneva Convention for obvious reasons. Napalm is a jelly-like fuel that has adhesive properties which burn hotter, and with a longer duration compared to liquid fuel. It is devastating to plant foliage and human skin. The majority of patients treated for napalm burns sustained the most severe of burns - 4th and 5th degree burns.

Phosphorus is often used as an ingredient in smoke grenades and tracer rounds, but is banned when used to cause bodily harm. White Phosphorus grenades, sometimes referred to as a "Willy Pete" or "Shake & Bake," cause severe burns when contacting clothing and bare skin. Any smoke inhaled from the burning phosphorus will blister the respiratory system and cause severe pain. Any soldier who came in close contact with enemy incendiary devices was surely removed from action.


Chemical Gases

Chemical weapons first began as a result of the First World War and that tactic of trench warfare - a very gruesome form of combat. Chemical gases were first used by the French forces. Original French gasses were not lethal and comparable to tear-gasses. The Germans created the first poisonous gas weaponry. Once the Germans deployed the first poisonous gas canister, several nations began researching and producing their own chemical agents. A dangerous arms race of chemical gasses began. Chlorine and mustard gas were among the most physically and psychologically damaging weapons of the First World War. Gas masks were issued for the first time in warfare in attempt to protect the wearer, but gas masks were not always sure-fire protection.

Chlorine gas combines with moisture in the respiratory system and causes severe chemical burns. The gas causes uncontrollable coughing, internal bleeding and excruciating pain. Chlorine gas is a heavy gas which settles in low-lying areas, such as trenches. Mustard gas was just as gruesome and caused external and internal blistering of tissues. Death can occur if blisters are abundant in the respiratory system. A young Adolf Hitler was allegedly exposed to such gasses in combat and was blinded for several weeks before regaining his sight.


Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons include atomic and hydrogen bombs and missiles. The world stood witness to the unimaginable destructive power of the atomic bomb during the Second World War. Two bombs were detonated about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan with the death toll still unknown today. Some sources report the death toll to be 200,000 and upwards. Whether such excessive force was necessary will be an argued for decades, but the statistics prove nuclear weapons are indiscriminate and cause very high numbers of civilian casualties. Due to the indiscriminate casualties, the START and SALT treaties were signed by the U.S.S.R and the U.S. to reduce nuclear arms. Unfortunately, nuclear weapons have not been completely banned. Also, nuclear weapons of today are terrifyingly many times more destructive compared to the two atomic bombs deployed during the Second World War.

The effects of a nuclear detonation causes destruction on several massive levels. The sheer explosive power of a nuclear weapon can nearly obliterate an entire city and fire-wind can spread very rapidly. Fire-wind occurred during the Second World War when fires in Hiroshima burned at such extreme temperatures that the intake of air by the fires caused a strong wind, which accelerated the spread of fire throughout the city.

Radiation poisoning occurs from exposure to radioactive materials, such as the byproducts and fallout of a nuclear detonation. Nuclear radiation is not fully understood, but it is destructive to every living cell in nature. Effects of radiation poisoning on the human body can vary from mild nausea and hair loss to internal bleeding, loss of white blood cells, cancers, bone marrow deterioration and death.


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    • profile image

      ed dunn 

      20 months ago

      despite repeated reports of weapons violations to the detriment of civilians i want it to totally stop

    • profile image

      edward dunn 

      2 years ago

      violent infared weapons continue to be used and because of obstruction of justice problems the perpetrators o fthis aggravatewd asssault continue to violate every federal law

      i want this pursued so it stops from compromising my life

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Uggggh. Big inaccuracy: INCENDIARY WEAPONS ARE NOT BANNED. Napalm is still 100% legal for use for anything as long as its not *directly roasting civvies alive.* Also, thermobarric bombs kinda classify as 'the burn-y stuff' thats supposedly banned and guess what - they get used all the time for bunker-clearing.

    • seh1101 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sean Hemmer 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Thanks for the comments/compliments, everyone! I'll be posting another article soon about U.S. defenses which include the "Star Wars" program, nuclear submarines, NORAD, Homeland Security, etc.

      Unnamed Harald - Thanks for the comment & correction! Edit made! The 1's and 0's in my username are not binary, but nice thinking! They merely represent my birthday.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Very nice article, seh1101 (or is it seh13?). Informative, interesting and very easy to read. You have a nice writing style. Voted up and interesting. I hope you don't mind this one nit/typo: the nuclear bombs used in WWII were atomic, not hydrogen.

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 

      7 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      very detailed information here!! voted up and shared...

      nice work....

    • ata1515 profile image


      7 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      Interesting history of banned weapons, voted up!


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