In a dramatic shift for the US military, the army is considering the use of bullets that can expand and break up when striking a target to make new pistols more lethal, raising concern that doing so would violate international law.
According to the
Army Times, the Pentagon recently reviewed
the use of “special purpose ammunition” and determined
the army could look into enabling its next-generation XM-17
pistol to use various kinds, including hollow point bullets.
Currently, only ball ammunition is used in the army.
The difference is that while ball ammunition penetrates deeper
into an enemy when they are struck, hollow point can break up
once they hit an individual, destroying a larger area of tissue
and generally producing more damage. As a result, they are more
The other difference is that, unlike ball ammunition, expanding
bullets were banned under the 1899 Hague Convention. The bullets
are not used by NATO members, either.
— Andrew deGrandpre (@adegrandpre) July
Richard Jackson, the special assistant to the US Army Judge
Advocate General for Law of War, acknowledged to the Army Times
that the Pentagon’s new posture marks “a significant
re-interpretation of the legal standard.” However, he
insisted that any potential use of such ammunition by the US
would not be a violation of international law.
“There’s a myth that (expanding/fragmenting bullets) are
prohibited in international armed conflict, but that doesn’t make
any sense now,” he told the news outlet.
Jackson went on to say that while the 1899 Hague Convention
prohibited the use of expanding bullets internationally, the ban
doesn’t actually apply to the US because the US never signed it.
He also noted local law enforcement agencies around the world are
allowed to use them.
“Very few states have signed [the Hague Convention] and the
United States is not one of them,” he said to the Washington Post. “Law enforcement
agencies use hollow points all over the world, so if it doesn’t
violate the human rights standards that applies these days, why
are we applying those standards on the battlefield?”
Even Article 23 of the 1907 Hague Convention, which bans
“arms, projectiles or material calculated to cause
unnecessary suffering,” does not apply, Jackson said,
because using hollow points on the battlefield in certain
situations would be more humane than continuing to use current
“There are actually humanitarian benefits from the use of
this type of ammunition,” he told the Post. “By staying
in the target there isn’t as many collateral effects….it will not
go through the target into a bystander nearby or someone in the
The Army itself echoed this sentiment in a statement, saying,
“The use of this ammunition supports the international law
principles of preventing excessive collateral effects and
safeguarding civilian lives.”
The Army’s argument is, essentially, that since modern warfare
often takes place in urban environments, hollow point bullets
would minimize collateral damage. Ball ammunition, because it can
penetrate tissue more deeply, can as a result blow through a
target and potentially hit others nearby. Ball ammunition can
ricochet and hit other people as well. Potentially, these sorts
of risks would be reduced with hollow point bullets.