What Weapons Are Banned or Restricted in War?
For thousands of years, there have been rules to control the types of weapons in warfare—for instance, the use of poison in armed combat was forbidden in Ancient Greece.
But it wasn’t until the 19th century that international agreements were made to legally regulate the types of weapons that are allowed (and banned) in wars around the world.
This graphic outlines the weapons that are banned or limited in war, according to international humanitarian laws that are outlined in the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).
CCW and The Five Protocols
The CCW, also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention, is an international agreement that restricts the use of weapons that have been deemed unnecessarily cruel and inhumane.
Currently, there are 125 State Parties involved in the agreement, with signatures from an additional four states. In the CCW, there are five protocols outlined that restrict or limit the use of the following weapons:
- Non-detectable fragments: weapons specially designed to shatter into tiny pieces, which aren’t detectable in the human body. Examples are fragmented bullets or projectiles filled with broken glass.
- Mines, booby traps, and other devices: This includes anti-personnel mines, which are mines specially designed to target humans rather than tanks.
- Incendiary weapons: Weapons that cause fires aren’t permitted for use on on civilian populations or in forested areas.
- Blinding lasers: Laser weapons specifically designed to cause permanent blindness.
- Explosive remnants of war: Parties that have used cluster bombs in combat are required to help clear any unexploded remains.
It’s worth flagging that, under the CCW, the use of cluster bombs is not outright banned. However, their use and production is prohibited under separate legislation called the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM).
At this time, the CCW does not have enforcement processes in place, or systems to resolve any breaches of the agreement.
The Chemical Weapons Convention
Another international treaty that aims to limit the use of unnecessarily dangerous weapons is the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which prohibits the creation, acquisition, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons by State Parties.
193 State Parties have signed the CWC, and one more state (Israel) has technically signed the agreement but hasn’t yet made it official.
Syria signed the agreement back in 2013, but according to reports from UN human rights investigators, the Syrian government has used chemical weapons on numerous occasions throughout its ongoing civil war.
Is Russia Using Prohibited Weapons in Ukraine?
In the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, it’s been reported that Russia’s been using several weapons that are banned by international legislation, including cluster bombs and explosive weapons. Harvard Law expert Bonnie Docherty explains why these weapons are so dangerous:
- They scatter submunitions over vast areas of land, meaning they can hit unintended targets
- Many don’t explode and end up laying dormant for years
According to reports from Human Rights Watch, Russia has been using cluster bombs in several areas of Ukraine, such as the heavily populated city of Mykolaiv, and in Solyani, a suburban area just outside of Mykolaiv.
AI in Weapons and Warfare
Over the last few decades, certain protocols and restrictions in the CCW have been amended and changed based on societal changes and technological improvements.
So, as military weapons continue to improve, and technology like commercial drones become more common, proper legislation around drone use in warfare may be necessary.
Currently, there is no international legislation that bans the use of drones in war. However, several global defense companies are popping up to try and find ways to counter these new military technologies. In fact, the global addressable market for counter drones and tracking systems is estimated at $10 billion worldwide.
Ranked: Top 10 Countries by Military Spending
As geopolitical tensions began to heat up around the world, which nations were the top military spenders in 2021?
The Top 10 Countries by Military Spending in 2021
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has continued, military spending and technology has come under the spotlight as the world tracked Western arms shipments and watched how HIMAR rocket launchers and other weaponry affected the conflict.
But developing, exporting, and deploying military personnel and weaponry costs nations hundreds of billions every year. In 2021, global military spending reached $2.1 trillion, rising for its seventh year in a row.
Using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), this visualization shows which countries spent the most on their military in 2021, along with their overall share of global military spending.
Which Countries Spend the Most on Military?
The United States was the top nation in terms of military expenditure, spending $801 billion to make up almost 38% of global military spending in 2021. America has been the top military spending nation since SIPRI began tracking in 1949, making up more than 30% of the world’s military spending for the last two decades.
U.S. military spending increased year-over-year by $22.3 billion, and the country’s total for 2021 was more than every other country in the top 10 combined.
|Country||Military Spending (2017)||Military Spending (2018)||Military Spending (2019)||Military Spending (2020)||Military Spending (2021)|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$51.6B||$55.7B||$56.9B||$60.7B||$68.4B|
The next top military spender in 2021 was China, which spent $293.4 billion and made up nearly 14% of global military spend. While China’s expenditure is still less than half of America’s, the country has increased its military spending for 27 years in a row.
In fact, China has the largest total of active military personnel, and the country’s military spending has more than doubled over the last decade.
While Russia was only the fifth top nation by military spending at $65.9 billion in 2021, it was among the higher ranking nations in terms of military spending as a share of GDP. Russia military expenditures amounted to 4.1% of its GDP, and among the top 10 spending nations, was only beaten by Saudi Arabia whose spending was 6.6% of its GDP.
Military Collaboration Since the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has resulted in seismic geopolitical shifts, kicking off a cascade of international military shipments and collaboration between nations. The security assistance just sent by the U.S. to Ukraine has totaled $8.2 billion since the start of the war, and has shown how alliances can help make up for some domestic military spending in times of conflict.
Similarly, Russia and China have deepened their relationship, sharing military intelligence and technology along with beginning joint military exercises at the end of August, alongside other nations like India, Belarus, Mongolia, and Tajikistan.
Since China’s breakthrough in hypersonic missile flight a year ago, Russia has now been testing its own versions of the technology, with Putin mentioning Russia’s readiness to export weaponry he described as, “years, or maybe even decades ahead of their foreign counterparts”.
Sanctions and Energy Exports: New Weapons in Modern Warfare
Along with advanced weaponry, sanctions and energy commodities have become new tools of modern cold warfare. As Western economic sanctions attempted to cripple Russia’s economy following its invasion, Russian gas and oil supplies have been limited and forced to be paid in rubles in retaliation.
Global trade has been turned into a new battlefield with offshore assets and import dependencies as the attack vectors. Along with these, cyberattacks and cybersecurity are an increasingly complex, obscure, and important part of national military and security.
Whether or not Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ends in 2022, the rise in geopolitical tensions and conflict this year will almost certainly result in a global increase in military spending.
A Century of Unions in Europe (1920-2022)
This year marks 100 years since the birth of the Soviet Union. How have countries in and near Europe aligned themselves over the last century?
Timeline: A Century of Unions in Europe (1920-2022)
On February 24th, Russia invaded Ukraine launching one of the biggest wars on European soil since World War II. The invasion reflects a longstanding belief of Russia’s that Ukraine—and much of the Soviet Union’s former republics and satellite states—is still their territory to claim. But what is the “former glory” of Russia?
Of the USSR’s former republics and satellite states, many have moved on to join the European Union, and in Putin’s eyes have become more “Westernized” and further from Russian values. In fact, Ukraine recently had its candidacy status approved with the EU.
It’s now been a full century since the formation of the USSR. Much has changed since then, and this visual timeline breaks down how countries within and near Europe have aligned themselves over those 100 years.
The USSR / Soviet Union
The Soviet Union—officially titled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)—was formed 100 years ago in 1922 and was dissolved in 1991 almost 70 years later. At its height it was home to 15 republics, over 286 million people, and stretched from the Pacific Ocean to Ukraine, with virtual control and influence in countries as far west as East Germany.
Notable leaders characterized both the rise and fall of the USSR, starting with its establishment under Vladimir Lenin until the union’s dissolution under Mikhail Gorbachev. Latvia and Lithuania were among the first republics to make the move for sovereignty, beginning the demise of the Soviet Union.
Here’s a look at which modern day countries were a part of the USSR.
|Modern Day Country||Name Under USSR||Date Joined||Date Gained Independence|
|🇬🇪 Georgia||Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇺🇦 Ukraine||Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇦🇲 Armenia||Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇦🇿 Azerbaijan||Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇧🇾 Belarus||Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇷🇺 Russia||Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇺🇿 Uzbekistan||Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic||1924||1991|
|🇹🇲 Turkmenistan||Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic||1924||1991|
|🇹🇯 Tajikistan||Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic||1929||1991|
|🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan||Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic||1936||1991|
|🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic||1936||1991|
|🇱🇹 Lithuania||Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic||1940||1990|
|🇪🇪 Estonia||Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic||1940||1991|
|🇱🇻 Latvia||Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic||1940||1990|
|🇲🇩 Moldova||Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic||1940||1991|
Additionally, there were multiple satellite states, which were not formally joined with the USSR, but operated under intense Soviet influence.
|Modern Day Country||Country Name at the Time|
|🇦🇱 Albania||People's Republic of Albania|
|🇵🇱 Poland||Polish People's Republic|
|🇧🇬 Bulgaria||People's Republic of Bulgaria|
|🇷🇴 Romania||Romanian People's Republic|
|🇨🇿 Czechia||Czechoslovak Socialist Republic|
|🇸🇰 Slovakia||Czechoslovak Socialist Republic|
|🇩🇪 Germany||East Germany (German Democratic Republic)|
|🇭🇺 Hungary||Hungarian People's Republic|
|🇸🇮 Slovenia||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇭🇷 Croatia||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇷🇸 Serbia||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇲🇪 Montenegro||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇲🇰 North Macedonia||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇲🇳 Mongolia||Mongolian People's Republic|
Today, there are still some countries that align themselves with Putin and Russia over the EU.
Belarus, sometimes called Europe’s “last dictatorship”, shares a border with both Ukraine and Russia and facilitated the entry of Russian soldiers into Ukraine. Furthermore, according to the Pentagon, Russian missiles have been launched from Belarus.
The European Union
The European Union was officially formed in 1993 and has 27 member states. Some former USSR republics are now a part of the union including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The most recent member to join was Croatia in 2013.
The EU has its roots in the European Coal & Steel Community which was formed in 1952 with Italy, France, West Germany and a few other countries comprising its first members. There are currently six candidate countries on track to join the EU — all but one were either former Soviet satellite states or formal republics:
- 🇦🇱 Albania
- 🇲🇪 Montenegro
- 🇲🇰 North Macedonia
- 🇷🇸 Serbia
- 🇹🇷 Turkey
- 🇺🇦 Ukraine
- 🇲🇩 Moldova
There are many reasons countries opt to join the EU: a common currency, easier movement of goods and people between national borders, and, of course, military protection.
However, in 2020 the UK formally left the union, making it the first country in history to do so. Here’s a look at every EU member state.
|EU Member States||Year Joined||Former USSR Republic?||Former USSR Satellite State?|
|🇩🇪 Germany||1952||No||Yes (East Germany)|
The iron curtain that was draped across Europe, which used to divide the continent politically and ideologically, has since been drawn back. But the war in Ukraine is a threat to many in Europe, and countries such as Poland have voiced fears about the spillover of conflict.
In late June, the European Council approved Ukraine’s bid for expedited candidacy to the EU, but the process will still likely be lengthy—for example, it took Croatia 10 years to formally join at the normal pace.
Beyond other needs such as military support, joining the union would allow refugees from Ukraine the freedom to migrate and work in other EU countries with ease.
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