The latest news your tired blogger has heard is that Russia has been using something called a “vacuum bomb” to devastate a Ukrainian base. Ukrainian losses during the bombing have been reported to be at least seventy soldiers.
Once again, I likely sound flippant. It is tragic that people are dying, and likely some will not appreciate my gallows humor. I’ve been doing posts on the history of the century old conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and it saddens me that we have not learned from our past better than this.
I joke about Mardi Gras, but I have a point to make on this. Mardi Gras is the time when all (well, most) sins are absolved, because the Catholic tradition has it followed by forty days of Lent, the forty days before Easter when we contemplate our sins, and the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It has little or nothing to do with Russian tradition, but it would not surprise me if Putin used this as an excuse. “It is not a sin, I’m just celebrating with some fireworks.”
Politicians are saying that this bombing could be a war crime. Let’s examine this.
Before the American Civil War there was no such animal as a War Crime. Essentially the winner got to define what was a war crime and punished the loser accordingly (assuming that they had won with enough power over the enemy). According to an article in USA Today “From an international law perspective, a war crime is any conduct…that fulfills two cumulative criteria,” Dustin Lewis, research director for the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict, told USA TODAY. “First, the conduct must be committed with a sufficient connection to an armed conflict. Second, the conduct must constitute a serious violation of the laws and customs of international humanitarian law that has been criminalized by international treaty or customary law.”
Now there’s a mouthful.
So….if I rape and kill and torture, but I’m not at war with anyone, there is no war crime. Hence, Putin is in the clear. He never officially declared war. “Around 05:00 EET (UTC+2) on 24 February, Putin announced a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine; minutes later, missiles began to hit locations across Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv.” So obviously there is no war, and hence, no war crime.
The “Father of All Bombs” as the Russians call it is equivalent to 44 tons of TNT, using 7 tons of “high explosive.” The Russians claim they are replacing some of their low grade nukes with these FOABs as they are called. This triggered a memory in my mind. Didn’t Trump threaten to use the “Mother of All Bombs” on someone?
According to an April 14, 2017 article in The New Yorker, the MOAB was first used a few days before to blow out some tunnels of terrorists in Afghanistan. So it may not have been ordered by Trump, but it did happen on Trump’s watch. You can read the article here: https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trump-drops-the-mother-of-all-bombs-on-afghanistan
So we did use something comparable. Sort of. The FOAB has a blast radius of 300 meters, almost double that of MOAB, and the temperature attained is double. The TNT equivalent of MOAB (US) is 11 tons, that of FOAB (Russia) is 44. So very roughly four times as destructive. Calling them “mini nukes” is very exaggerating, since the Hiroshima bomb was equivalent to fifteen thousand tons of TNT.
I look up the list of war crimes on Wikipedia, and while the whole thing sounds revolting….some of it is intensely vague. “Intentionally killing civilians,” starts the list. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should do our reasonable best not to kill civilians. But when you are bombing a city, you surely know that there will be civilians killed. No bomb (certainly nothing like MOAB or FOAB) could ever be so precise as only to kill “the bad guys.”