There’s a point of view that the main reason newspapers make a big thing out of printing corrections columns and suchlike is to convince people that all the other rubbish they print is true. Given the ongoing rumbles over the use of white phosphorous as a directly targeted weapon, I wonder if that distinction also applies in terms of the various treaties on permitted and non-permitted weapons. The legal distinction between the two seems to create a perceptual distinction. Banned weapons cause slow painful death to civilians. Permitted weapons are kind and fluffy. They only kill bad guys. At the very least, the presence of these laws tends to sidetrack the discussion into a kind of technical cul de sac:
Peter Kaiser, a spokesman for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which enforces the convention, said the convention permitted the use of such weapons for "military purposes not connected with the use of chemical weapons and not dependent on the use of the toxic properties of chemicals as a method of warfare". He said the burns caused by WP were thermic rather than chemical and as such not prohibited by the treaty.
It’s not that you burn alive that counts. It’s how you burn alive. By contrast, here’s a permitted weapon recently used in Fallujah - thermobaric missiles:
This is a version of the standard USMC Shoulder Mounted Assault Weapon but with a new warhead. Described as NE - "Novel Explosive"- it is a thermobaric mixture which ignites the air, producing a shockwave of unparalleled destructive power, especially against buildings.
A post-action report from Iraq describes the effect of the new weapon: "One unit disintegrated a large one-storey masonry type building with one round from 100 meters. They were extremely impressed." Elsewhere it is described by one Marine as "an awesome piece of ordnance.".
Defensetch goes on to state:
Thermobaric weapons almost invariably lead to civilian deaths. The Soviet Union was heavily criticized for using thermobaric weapons in Afghanistan because they were held to constitute "disproportionate force," and similar criticisms were made when thermobarics were used in the Chechen conflict. According to Human Rights Watch, thermobaric weapons "kill and injure in a particularly brutal manner over a wide area. In urban settings it is very difficult to limit the effect of this weapon to combatants, and the nature of FAE explosions makes it virtually impossible for civilians to take shelter from their destructive effect."
With the best will in the world it’s impossible to fight a modern war in urban conditions without causing civilian casualties. Without the best will in the world, there’ll be a lot more killed. And if you don’t give a shit in the first place or your aim is simply to use the conflict against insurgents to terrorize a population inclined to support them, you can do that perfectly well without using banned weapons at all.