Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Inhumane Weapons Convention (10 April 1981)

International agreement to ban or restrict certain types of weapons, opened for signature on 10 April 1981 and entered into force on 2 December 1983. The signatory states negotiated the convention with the intent to either eliminate the use of certain types of weapons or restrain their use in conventional warfare or colonial military operations. Other occasions during which the convention was to be invoked included wars against foreign occupation or against racist regimes. When the agreement was negotiated in 1980, there was no specific inclusion of internal military operations (for example, Iraqi operations against the Kurds in the 1980s and early 1990s).

The original treaty was based on an overall framework and three protocols. The first protocol addressed the use of weapons designed to create wounds that cannot be easily detected. Fragments such as those made of plastic, glass, or wood that cannot be detected by conventional X-rays are specifically prohibited. Land mines and booby traps were covered in the second protocol, which regulates but does not ban the use of these weapons. The protocol states that anti-personnel land mines must be equipped with either a self-destruction mechanism or a self-deactivation device. Further, when employed mines must be placed in clearly marked and protected minefields. Antipersonnel mines were also to be constructed and designed so that they could be easily located and removed.

The third protocol of the original convention banned the use of incendiary devices against civilians. It also required that incendiary devices be used exclusively against military targets and only those not located near concentrated areas of civilian settlement. The provisions of this protocol govern only those weapons that are specifically designed to burn or ignite fires (flame throwers, incendiary bombs, etc.).

While the convention prohibits certain weapons and their use, there is no means for verifying or enforcing compliance. The agreement is thus voluntarily entered into and is adhered to based on a sort of honor system.

Surviving its Cold War origins, convention negotiations have continued, with the most recent 2003 protocol regulating unexploded and abandoned ordnance and laser blinding weapons. As of 2007, ninety-nine nations have become signatories to at least some part of the convention. The United States signed the first and second protocols and the amended version of the second protocol in 1999.

Robert N. Stacy


Further Reading
Monin, Lydia. The Devil's Gardens: A History of Land Mines. London: Pimlico, 2002.
 

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