What constitutes unfair warfare?

Hey everybody,
I have a question regarding the WAH

Why were some measures of warfare deemed “unfair” and forbidden under the Geneva Convention and the like. I could imagine that it has something to do with “honorable warfare” (if there is such a thing). I could also imagine that you shall not kill the enemy with poison because it does not require direct contact meaning there is no fight only death. But then again artillery is usually considered to be okay to use. I would love for anyone to clear up on this.


There are others who can better answer this but this is my take on it.

Depends on your meaning of unfair warfare. In war many things can and do happen that are deemed unfair or atrocious but can be deemed fog of war. Also the use of unfair warfare is pretty general in terms due to different definitions depending on who you talk to.

Under the definition of unfair warfare you would have to refer to things like the Geneva Convention, Red Cross and military agreements between nations.

Some uses of “unfair” tactics are:

-using civilians as human shields
-attacking unarmed combatants
-use of chemical or biological weapons
-targeting military or civilian hospitals
-killing of wounded or incapacitated soldiers
-many other to numerous to mention here

The use of minefields, booby traps, numerical superiority, advanced weaponry and many other tactics are considered fair game.


Thanks for your reply, dearth.

I do agree with your point that “fairness” would most likely have a subjective meaning. That makes it even more interesting to know how the different nations could agree on at least some points in conventions like the Geneva Convention, the Hague Convention etc.

I just thought that (to stick with the example of artillery) being blown to bits without seeing the projectile coming or the enemy that shot said projectile would qualify to be deemed unconventional. Yet the conventions mentioned above do not ban it.

A reason could be that artillery was developed continously from the early ages where it was direct firing cannons to the later ages were it was a horrifying and random way to die. So there was no clear point of time for anybody to say “Artillery is atrocious, let’s not use that”. It just wasn’t disruptive enough of a breakthrough to scare people into banning it. That’s just a theory though I would love further ideas or explanations.

But then again if there was a clear definition that could be applied to all means of warfare, we wouldn’t need these conventions which are basically just arbitrary lists, right? You only need to list things if there is no definition for them.


Artillery(including ships), rockets, missiles, fire and forget weapons, carpet bombing, tanks, bows and arrows, blow darts, anti-personnel mines and so on are all accepted methods of war as all have been developed as weapons of use and as such are generally accepted as acceptable weapons.

Remember weapons are made to maim and kill and the further away you are and able to keep your soldiers safe and kill and maim the enemy is the name of the game. That applies even now to modern militaries.


Dearth has covered most of the issue very well. Certain weapons are also banned.

Landmines banned, especially non-detectables.
Combatants shouldn’t use incendiary weapons around civilians.
Blinding Lasers.
Expanding rounds aka dum-dum bullets.
Poisoned bullets and munitions.
Cluster Bombs.
Biological Agents (Germ warfare).


Land mines are close to being banned. The United Stares would only agree if an exception was made for Korea.

Some of these weapons are proven effective in certain situations but have too high a public appearance cost. Napalm for example. Yet I still believe white Phosphorous is used in some situations and is at least as bad. If a major war comes along I would expect a large use of thermal bairic (spelling) devices and that will be ugly for sure. Cluster munitions will find there way back in I think, but yes they avoided right now.

Cluster munitions, land mines and poisonous gas fell out of use, imho, because there are more effective means of attacking soldiers without the huge deaths of civilians. Vx gas would make ww1 chemical munitions pale in comparison.