WHITE PHOSPHORUS BOMB (Syllabus: GS Paper 3 – Sci and Tech)

News-CRUX-10     26th October 2023        

Context: Israel was recently accused by Human Rights Watch of employing white phosphorus munitions in Gaza, raising concerns about the potential for serious and long-term harm to civilians.

  • The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) imposes restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons, including white phosphorus, with the aim of safeguarding civilians.
  • The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is a treaty that establishes a comprehensive ban on the use of chemical weapons. White phosphorus, although a chemical agent and toxic, is not covered by the CWC.

White Phosphorus Bomb

  • About: White phosphorus bombs are created by combining white phosphorus with rubber.
  • Properties: A wax-like chemical, appears pale yellow or colorless and emits a pungent odor resembling rotten garlic.
  • Temperature of bomb: 800 °C and spontaneously ignites up to 1,300 °C when exposed to oxygen
  • Properties: Upon exposure to air, white phosphorus ignites rapidly due to its highly flammable nature.

o Armies worldwide employ it in incendiary weapons for various purposes, such as illuminating targets at night and causing harm to adversaries.

o Once ignited, this substance is challenging to extinguish because it adheres to numerous surfaces, including skin and clothing.

o Due to its wax-like properties, it proves difficult to remove and often reignites upon bandage removal.

o While white phosphorus munitions aren't prohibited by international law, their use is subject to strict regulation due to their incendiary effects.

Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC): Effective from 1997, it prohibits the use of chemical weapons, and also prohibits large-scale development, production, stockpiling, or transfer of chemical weapons or their precursors, except for very limited purposes (research, medical, pharmaceutical or protective). 

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