That’s Right, We Use White Phosphorus

The BBC came out with a Q&A about white phosphorus today:

The Pentagon’s confirmation that it used white phosphorus as a weapon during last year’s offensive in the Iraqi city of Falluja has sparked criticism.

Why criticism? Oh yah, because we’re the U. S. of A. Sure, some civilians probably were affected by the white phosphorus, but there’s always some collateral damage. There’s no doubt white phosphorus is dangerous and should only be used in the most severe of circumstances. I think Fallujah last year is a key example of one of those circumstances warranting the use of white phosphorus.

What are the international conventions?

Washington is not a signatory to any treaty restricting the use of white phosphorus against civilians.

White phosphorus is covered by Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons, which prohibits its use as an incendiary weapon against civilian populations or in air attacks against enemy forces in civilian areas.

The US – unlike 80 other countries including the UK – is not a signatory to Protocol III.

See that there? Yah, there’s nothing prohibiting the U.S. from using white phosphorus against any group, even civilians. So, if we did intentionally use white phosphorus against civilian groups, what action would be taken? Probably none. I highly doubt the U.S. used white phosphorus on civilians intentionally. If there were civilians affected, it’s because they were sticking around in Fallujah with the insurgents. And if that is the case, the civilians deserved everything the insurgents got. Why would a civilian stick around other than to assist the insurgents or to protect their homes? My point is, white phosphorus wouldn’t be used agains civilians unless they were presenting some sort of threat, which they most likely were.

And, besides that, white phosphorus isn’t even a chemical weapon. John Cole seems to feel pretty strongly about that. It’s almost always used to provide a smoke screen. It will produce a very dense cloud of smoke that can provide cover for troops. Like everything, white phosphorus can be used for evil.

My 2 cents.

  • The UN Convention bans the use of incendiary weapons against civilans, not against humans.
    See for yourself:…15? OpenDocument

    Of course any deliberate engagement or targeting of civilians is already a war crime. so that the US has not signed this one is not of especial import except to say that we aren’t bound by it expressly.

    White Phosphorus is not banned.

    It also isn’t a chemical weapon.
    We are signtory to the Chemical Weapons Convention which defines chemical weapons. See here: …c_frameset.html

    So it isn’t a chemical weapon and it isn’t banned.

    Indiscriminate use is. The stories circulating do not support that contention. See here: …0_504_10_04.prt

    Cpl. Bogert received the coordinates for the targets and recorded them on a map. This is proper procedure. He’s receiving coordinates from a Forward Observer, indirect fire weapons never see their targets, the FOs do. The coordinates are plotted so that it is known what was ordered where. There is also a verification that takes place in the call for indirect fire to avoid problems with numerical transposition or other mistakes.

  • Thanks for the details Trainer. I’m on your side here. The U.S. did nothing wrong.