28| Depleted-Uranium Weapons and International Law (excerpt)

The real objective must be the abolition of war. ...In the meantime it is possible to achieve prohibitions on certain practices or weapons which routinely violate the laws of war, including DU weapons.

Alyn Ware

"When the king fights with his foes in battle, let him not strike with weapons concealed in wood, nor with such as are barbed, poisoned, or the points of which are blazing with fire." (Seventh book of the legendary Hindu lawyer, Manu.)

For most of history there has been a battle between those who would justify the use of war as a necessary political tool, and those who would classify war as a crime of mass murder which must be abolished. Up until the twentieth century, war may have been opposed by the masses, but was seen by powerful rulers as politics by other means. However the devastation of the European wars and the two world wars moved even those in power to see the inhumanity of war and consider the possibility of prohibiting it.

The Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907 and the formation of the League of Nations and the United Nations had the abolition of war in mind, but failed to deliver due to the vested interests in continuing to use force and to the strongly held notion that force may be necessary in self-defense. What they could agree to, however, was that certain acts of war are "inhumane" and not necessary for the purpose of defeating the enemy. They therefore agreed to prohibit such acts. Other initiatives, such as the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, have added to the list of proscribed actions.

What has emerged, therefore, is the development of a body of international law termed the humanitarian laws of warfare, which prohibit certain "inhumane" acts during wartime while not prohibiting the inhumane act of war itself. Such law was seriously debated during the recent International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The ICJ concluded that "the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law."1

The question that arises, therefore, is whether the use of depleted uranium (DU) in weapons systems violates this body of law, and if so whether the law can be used to effectively constrain or prohibit such use.



The full text of this chapter is available in the book, Metal of Dishonor. Link here for order information.




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