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Preventing Collateral Damage

The United States, in its continuing effort to protect civilians from harm caused by armed conflict, has ratified 4 international agreements governing conventional weapons.

Three of the 4 agreements are what are known as protocols to the Convention on Conventional Weapons. That’s a treaty negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations that establishes a framework for agreements that regulate the use of particular types of conventional weapons that may be deemed to pose special risks of having indiscriminate effects or causing unnecessary suffering. There are 5 protocols to the CCW and member states ratify each separately.

On Jan. 23, the U.S. formally ratified 3 protocols addressing the use of incendiary weapons, blinding lasers weapons, and the effects from unexploded ordnance left after hostilities. The fourth agreement is an amendment to the underlying convention that expands the scope of the convention to cover internal armed conflicts.

The United States played a leading role in negotiating the protocols and the amendment and has long complied with their obligations. In Afghanistan, for example, the U.S. sponsors an extensive program to destroy unexploded ordnance and remove abandoned munitions that makes the territory safer for Afghan civilians.

The U.S. has now adopted all 5 of the convention’s protocols. The other 2 protocols, which the United States has previously ratified, cover non-detectable fragments and landmines, booby traps, and other explosive devices. This latest step reaffirms the U.S. commitment to the development and implementation of international humanitarian law.