United States of America
Practice Relating to Rule 85. The Use of Incendiary Weapons against Combatants
At the Preparatory Conference for the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in 1978, the United States felt that an “early agreement” on the use of incendiary weapons was unlikely and that “continued insistence on the total prohibition of such weapons, or prohibition of their use against people, would preclude the possibility of agreement” as “a compromise could be reached only if consideration was given both to humanitarian concerns and to military requirements and if the effects of alternative weapons were taken into account”.
The US Field Manual (1956) states:
The use of weapons which employ fire, such as tracer flame-throwers, napalm and other incendiary agents, against targets requiring their use is not a violation of international law. They should not, however, be employed in such a way as to cause unnecessary suffering to individuals.
The US Air Force Pamphlet (1976) states:
Incendiary weapons, such as incendiary ammunition, flame throwers, napalm and other incendiary agents have widespread uses in armed conflict. Although evoking intense international concern, combined with attempts to ban their use, state practice indicates clearly they are regarded as lawful in situations requiring their use. Conventional incendiary weapons are normally employed against materiel targets and combatants in the vicinity of such targets, such as pill boxes, tanks, vehicles, fortifications, etc. Use in ground support of friendly troops in close contact with enemy troops is an important use. Such uses are justified by the military effectiveness of incendiary weapons demonstrated during World War I, Word War II, Korea, Vietnam and other conflicts. Controversy over incendiary weapons has evolved over the years partly as the result of concern about the medical difficulties in treating burn injuries, as well as arbitrary attempts to analogise incendiary weapons to prohibited means of chemical warfare … Additionally, incendiary weapons must not be used so as to cause unnecessary suffering.
At the Preparatory Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in 1979, the United States explained that it could not accept a restriction on the use of incendiaries against combatants for two reasons. First, “troops in or near the targets attacked with incendiaries would inevitably be killed, and commanding officers would risk being charged with violating the antipersonnel restriction”. Second, “the establishment of any rule embodying a comprehensive set of exceptions would not change present practices and its effect would be purely cosmetic”.
Course material from the US Army War College, which is also used by the US Marine Corps, states: “a) Incendiaries are lawful when utilized for the purpose(s) for which they were designed. b) There is NO prohibition on the use of napalm or flame-throwers against enemy personnel.”
(emphasis in original)