General Studies IIIScience and Tech

Phosphorus Bombs


Recently, Ukrainian police has accused Russian forces of launching phosphorus bomb attacks (chemical weapon) in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine, collectively known as the Donbas.

About Phosphorus Bombs:

  • White phosphorus munitions are weapons that use one of the common allotropes of the chemical element phosphorus.
  • White phosphorus is used in smoke, illumination, and incendiary munitions, and is commonly the burning element of tracer ammunition. 
  • White phosphorus is:
    • pyrophoric (it is ignited by contact with air); 
    • burns fiercely; 
    • can ignite cloth, fuel, ammunition, and other combustibles.
  • Other common names for white phosphorus munitions include WP and the slang terms Willie Pete and Willie Peter, which are derived from William Peter, the World War II phonetic alphabet rendering of the letters WP, which are military jargon. 
  • White phosphorus is pyrophoric (it is ignited by contact with air); burns fiercely; and can ignite cloth, fuel, ammunition, and other combustibles.
  • In addition to its offensive capabilities, white phosphorus is a highly efficient smoke-producing agent, reacting with air to produce an immediate blanket of phosphorus pentoxide
  • Smoke-producing white phosphorus munitions are very common, particularly as smoke grenades for infantry, loaded in defensive grenade launchers on tanks and other armoured vehicles, and in the ammunition allotment for artillery and mortars.
  • These create smoke screens to mask friendly forces’ movement, position, infrared signatures, and shooting positions.
  • They are often called smoke/marker rounds for their use in marking points of interest, such as a light mortar to designate a target for artillery spotters.
  • International law prohibits the use of white phosphorus shells in heavily populated civilian areas, but allows them in open spaces to be used as cover for troops.

Historical record of phosphorus use

  • Phosphorus ammunitions have been used throughout history and in modern wars such as Iraq war, Arab-Israeli conflict as well.
  • Two events are listed below:
    • There have been White phosphorus is believed to have been first used by Fenian (Irish nationalist) arsonists in the 19th century.
    • The British Army introduced the first factory-built white phosphorus grenades in late 1916 during the First World War.

What are Chemical Weapons?

  • A Chemical Weapon is a chemical used to cause intentional death or harm through its toxic properties.
  • Munitions, devices and other equipment specifically designed to weaponize toxic chemicals also fall under the definition of chemical weapons.

What is International Law regarding Use of Chemical Weapons?

  • Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is a multilateral treaty banning chemical weapons and requiring their destruction within the stipulated time.
  • Negotiations for the CWC began in 1980 at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament.
  • The convention was drafted in September 1992 and opened for signature in January 1993. It became effective from April 1997.
  • It makes it mandatory to destroy old and abandoned chemical weapons.
  • Members should also declare the riot-control agents (sometimes referred to as ‘tear gas’) in possession of them.
  • India signed the treaty in January 1993. The Chemical Weapons Convention Act, 2000 was passed to implement the CWC.
  • Convention Prohibits:
    • The development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, or retention of chemical weapons.
    • Transferring of chemical weapons.
    • Using chemical weapons.
    • Assisting other States to indulge in activities that are prohibited by the CWC.
    • Using riot-control devices as ‘warfare methods’.
  • Apart from CWC, Australia Group seeks to check proliferation of chemical or biological weapons.

Australia Group

  • The Australia Group (AG) is an informal forum of countries which, through the harmonisation of export controls, seeks to ensure that exports do not contribute to the development of chemical or biological weapons.
  • The formation of the Australia Group (AG) in 1985 was prompted by Iraq’s use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988)
  • Coordination of National export control measures assists Australia Group members to fulfil their obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological & Toxin Weapons Convention.
  • It has 43 members (including the European union). The members work on a consensus basis. The annual meeting is held in Paris, France.
  • India joined (as 43rd Participant) the Australia Group (AG) on 19th January 2018.
  • The Australia Group decided to admit India as the Group’s through a consensus decision.

Source: The Hindu

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