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Cluster Bombs and Thermobaric Weapons

  • 04 Mar 2022
  • 5 min read

For Prelims: Cluster Bombs, Thermobaric Weapons.

For Mains: International Treaties and Agreements, Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.

Why in News?

Human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused Russia of using cluster bombs and vacuum bombs in the ongoing war (on Ukraine).

  • Amnesty International said international humanitarian law prohibits the use of inherently indiscriminate weapons such as cluster munitions. Launching indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians constitutes a war crime.
  • International humanitarian law is a set of rules that seek to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects people who are not or are no longer participating in hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare.

What are cluster munitions?

  • A cluster munition means a “conventional munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms, and includes those explosive submunitions”.
  • Essentially, cluster munitions are non-precision weapons that are designed to injure or kill human beings indiscriminately over a large area, and to destroy vehicles and infrastructure such as runways, railway or power transmission lines.
  • They can be dropped from an aircraft or launched in a projectile that spins in flight, scattering many bomblets as it travels.
  • Many of these bomblets end up not exploding, but continue to lie on the ground, often partially or fully hidden and difficult to locate and remove, posing a threat to the civilian population for long after the fighting has ceased.
  • The Convention on Cluster Munitions specifically identifies “cluster munition remnants”, which include “failed cluster munitions, abandoned cluster munitions, unexploded submunitions and unexploded bomblets”

What is a thermobaric weapon?

  • Thermobaric weapons — also known as aerosol bombs, fuel air explosives, or vaccum bombs — use oxygen from the air for a large, high-temperature blast.
  • A thermobaric weapon causes significantly greater devastation than a conventional bomb of comparable size.
  • The weapons, which go off in two separate stages, can be fired as rockets from tank-mounted launchers or dropped from aircraft.
  • As they hit their target, a first explosion splits open the bomb’s fuel container, releasing a cloud of fuel and metal particles that spreads over a large area.
  • A second explosion then occurs, igniting the aerosol cloud into a giant ball of fire and sending out intense blast waves that can destroy even reinforced buildings or equipment and vaporize human beings.

What is the Convention on Cluster Munitions?

  • The Convention on Cluster Munitions is a United Nations-adopted legal instrument that prohibits all use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions.
  • It establishes a framework for cooperation and assistance to ensure adequate assistance to survivors and their communities, clearance of contaminated areas, risk reduction education and destruction of stockpiles.
  • It was adopted in Dublin, Ireland in 2008, and was opened for signature in Oslo, Norway. It entered into force in 2010 after the requirement of 30 ratifications was complete.
  • Currently, the convention has 110 State Parties and 13 Signatory States.
  • Countries that ratify the convention are obliged to never use cluster munitions, and also to never develop, produce, otherwise acquire, retain, stockpile or transfer to anyone cluster munitions.
  • India has not signed the convention and is not a party to it. Other countries that are not parties are the US, Russia, China, Pakistan and Israel, among others.
    • Vacuum bombs are not prohibited by any international law or agreement, but their use against civilian populations in built-up areas, schools or hospitals, could attract action under the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.
    • Hague Convention is any of a series of international treaties that were issued from international conferences held at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1899 and 1907. They establish the laws and customs of war in the strict sense, by defining the rules that belligerents must follow during hostilities.

Source: IE

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