The concept of war could be pretty weird and ironic at times. After all, the purpose of creating all these lethal weapons and engaging in war with the enemies was to cause havoc and suffering to them, right? That could be true in ancient times, but we are not barbaric. So, even when we are killing one another, there are certain rules that had to be adhered to, one of which was the ban on using weapons that caused unnecessary pain and suffering from the enemies. Here are those:

Poisoned Bullets

In 1675, the Strasbourg Agreement between France and the Holy Roman Empire was created and signed in response to the increased use of poisoned bullets. The particular poisoned bullets banned in the agreement was the one developed by Leonardo da Vinci that had powdered arsenic and powdered sulfur packed into shells.

According to it, the French nor Holy Roman Empire were not to use poisoned bullets in conflict, making it the very first agreement to ban a weapon of war in modern history.

Chemical Weapons

Before the 1993 Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, chemical weapons saw uses during World War I, with both sides developing and using their own poisonous gases. These chemical weapons were usually put into munitions like grenades and artillery shells and then bombarded enemy positions. Among the most famous chemical weapons used with different effects were chlorine gas, mustard gas, and phosgene gas.

An unidentified Canadian soldier with burns caused by mustard gas (Library and Archives Canada, C-080027 / Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, C-080027, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The devastating effects of these chemical gases resulted in a large public outcry against their use, and os in 1925, the Geneva Protocol banned the use of chemical weapons in war. Since then, other chemical weapons have been banned, including nerve agents that damage the neurotransmitters of the body, causing the victims to lose control of their bodily functions that would, later on, result in respiratory failure.

The same thing goes for nettle agents that irritate the skin like tear gas and pepper spray, which were all included at the 1993 convention mentioned above.

Blinding Laser Weapons

It was in 1995 that blinding laser weapons were banned under Protocol IV of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. As defined by international law, blinding weapons are specifically designed to cause permanent blindness to the naked eye.

It is worth noting that “blinding as an incidental or collateral effect of the legitimate military employment of laser systems, including laser systems used against optical equipment,” which translates to, “It’s okay if you get blinded from a laser that was not intended to blind you.”

Biological Weapons

The use of biological weapons can be traced back to the time of European colonization of North America when blankets infested with smallpox were intentionally used to wipe out the Native Americans in the area.

Smallpox, at that time, was a European disease that the Native Americans did not have immunity to yet, so it served as an effective biological weapon against them. In 1343, during the Siege of Caffa, the Mongols decided to toss their troops’ rotting corpses laden with the black death plague into the walls of the Crimean city of Caffa to spread the disease and infection throughout the city.

Biological weapons were banned in the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which banned the development, production, and stockpiling of biological weapons.

Cluster Munitions

Cluster munitions or cluster bombs were one of the most recently banned weapons of war that was only banned at the 2008  Convention on Cluster Munitions. As defined by Cluster Munition Coalition,

Cluster munitions are dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground or sea, opening up in mid-air to release tens or hundreds of submunitions, which can saturate an area up to the size of several football fields. Anybody within the strike area of the cluster munition, be they military or civilian, is very likely to be killed or seriously injured.

Apart from the fact that there was no way of identifying civilians from combatants using cluster munitions, the bombs could also leave behind large numbers of unexploded munitions.

Incendiary Weapons

Incendiary weapons like Napalm and anything that was designed specifically to cause fires were used in the deadliest of conflicts in human history. About 38,000 tons of Napalm were dropped in Vietnam because conventional bombs could be ineffective in the dense jungle and soft ground while napalm tended to burn it away

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Personnel of the 892nd Chemical Company pouring Napalm into a drum of gasoline. (Department of Defense. Department of the Air Force. 9/26/1947, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The use of incendiary weapons was banned under Protocol III at the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, specifically those created to set fire to objects or cause burn injuries to victims, be it through flame, heat, or a combination of those.

On the other hand, limitations were set on the use of flamethrowers, shells, rockets, bombs, and Napalm. Napalm, for instance, could still be used only in a concentrated area where enemies are.


The Ottawa Treaty ordered the total ban of anti-personnel mines that the 1979 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons failed to do. This does not cover anti-tank mines, booby traps, and remote mines.

Anti-tank mines. (HH58CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Non-detectable anti-personnel mines or plastic mines were also included, as they were no less dangerous than the metal ones, if not more. The thing with these plastic mines is that they cannot be detected with metal detectors and cannot be X-rayed by doctors, so it would be much harder to treat the victims.

Non-self-destructing landmines are also another thing as they pose a risk to civilians as these mines could detonate at any time. As a rule, landmines should be equipped with a timer so that they could self detonate in case they were left or forgotten.