Bombs. Away.

Apr 8, 2011

I will be a attending a workshop at Cornell University on bombing norms for the next few days. (Presumably after I get back, I’ll never again bomb anything I’m not supposed to.)

On this note, readers may be interested to have a look at this new memorandum Stephanie mentioned from Human Rights Watch on incendiary weapons, which follows up on an earlier report by HRW’s Arms Division. The campaign I’ve been tracking for the paper I’m presenting is on a slightly different problem, “explosive weapons,” (their latest report is here) but I’m happy that HRW is outlining the specific issues with incendiaries as they are mentioned in humanitarian law but with so many loopholes that there is essentially no stigma against using them thus far:

Protocol III allows ongoing use of incendiary munitions in ways harmful to civilians due to definitional loopholes and narrow regulations. Its definition, which looks only at the primary design of a munition, fails to cover some incendiary munitions, such as white phosphorus, that are not “primarily designed” as weapons yet cause unacceptable civilian harm. In addition, the protocol’s key regulations apply only to use in populated areas and are weaker for ground-launched than for air-dropped models.[2]

Regardless of their type, targeting, and delivery mechanism, however, incendiary munitions cause cruel and lasting injury to people as well as start fires that can destroy property. The munitions produce exceptionally painful thermal and respiratory burns, which can lead to complications such as shock, infection, and asphyxiation. People who survive often suffer long-term physical and psychological damage.

A question I’m now thinking about is whether the two separate campaigns – against explosives and against incendiaries – will complement or work against one another. Each opposes a different type of weapon and a different type of humanitarian harm. Each is drawing support from slightly different transnational networks (see here and here). But there’s a lot of overlap. My research on the weapons campaigns suggests that either campaign needs champions within either HRW or the ICRC in order to gain sway, and of the two incendiaries clearly have that. At the same time, the “explosive violence” campaign may be able to piggy-back on these efforts.

Readers’ thoughts welcomed. More insights as mine develop over the next few days.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]


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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.