The U.S. has a legitimate claim as one of the more honorable warfighting nations on Earth. Sure, we get involved in a lot more wars than some others, but we also follow lots of rules about how to fight them and have even pushed for greater regulation of war and prevention of conflict from the League of Nations to the U.N. and dozens of treaties besides. But, oddly enough, we still use a few weapons that other nations have banned, like these four:
A B-1B Lancer drops cluster munitions during a test.
(U.S. Air Force)
Cluster munitions are weapons with a lot more weapons inside of them, usually bombs, rockets, or artillery shells filled with bomblets. They’re super effective, allowing a single bomb drop to disperse hundreds of what are essentially grenades. Each one releases shrapnel and shreds light vehicles, aircraft, and personnel.
But many of those grenades fail to detonate when dropped, meaning that dozens or even hundreds of pieces of unexploded ordnance can be left behind. These have an unfortunate tendency to explode when civilians stumble across them, so most countries banned them by ratifying the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. America has not ratified that treaty and, in 2017, relaxed rules that limited the ability of the Department of Defense to buy cluster munitions.
But the military is trying to find new weapons that wouldn’t violate the treaty but would be effective.
A Marine Corps gunnery sergeant shows how to load the M1014 shotgun.
(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Daniel A. Wulz)
Yeah, it may sound crazy, but Germany tried to argue in World War I that shotguns were an illegal weapon. Don’t worry; you’re not a war criminal. Everyone else in the world agreed that Germany, who had rolled out chemical weapons during the same war, was full of crap.
But yes, America’s enemy Germany tried to get the shotgun banned on the basis that they were unnecessarily painful, but the U.S. used them to quickly clear German trenches. America had a suspicion that Germany was declaring them illegal because they were effective, not because they were cruel. So we just kept using them and won the war.
U.S. Airman 1st Class Samuel Garr practices attacking an enemy with pepper spray in his eyes.
(U.S. Air Force Airman Nicole Sikorski)
Pepper spray and similar non-lethal gasses
Yeah, this one is actually illegal. Like, right now, it’s illegal to take pepper spray into combat and use it. America, of course, has plenty of pepper spray and other non-lethal weapons, but the military and police can only use it on their own citizens.
These weapons are illegal under Article I.5 of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Rifle fire is fine. Pepper spray is not. Yeah, it’s a weird rule.
U.S. Army Reserve engineers conduct mine clearance during training in 2014.
(U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Sauret)
Like cluster munitions, landmines are one of the weapons that were declared illegal for good reason (unlike shotguns and pepper spray because, I mean, come on). The Mine Ban Treaty of 1997 has 164 countries as members, over 80 percent of the world. But the U.S. is not a signatory.
But the U.S. does enforce its own limitations on mine use. While Claymore mines are used around the world, most of America’s mine stockpiles are restricted. America has actually banned the use of most mines everywhere except the Korean Peninsula, the place where the U.S. and its ally hold a 150-mile barrier against an angry communist regime with artillery and infantry positioned just 20 miles from Seoul, South Korea’s capital.
Weird that the U.S. wants to keep all of its options on the table for that fight. Weird.