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The Law of War Manual is here (no, really)

The last time the U.S. Department of Defense published a comprehensive manual on the law of war was in 1956, when Richard Baxter set the standard.  Much has happened since then–the U.S., in particular, has engaged in many armed conflicts and other military endeavors — and yet the 1956 Manual, although slightly amended, has never been superseded.  In 1990 — that is to say, a quarter of a century ago — esteemed Department of Defense lawyer Hays Parks published a law review article in which he wrote that “the United States has undertaken a two-track program to ensure and enhance continued respect for the law of war.  [A] comprehensive military review identified a need to update and significantly expand American military law of war manuals.  A new Navy manual was published in 1987, and the new Army law of war manual will be completed in 1990.”

Well, here we are 25 years later and, believe it or not, the Department of Defense today published the long-awaited revised Manual, on behalf of the Department as a whole.  (An Army-specific manual reportedly will follow shortly.)

Importantly, the preface states that the manual “is an institutional publication and reflects the views of the Department of Defense,” and that, although it “has benefited significantly from the participation of experts from the Department of State, Office of the Legal Adviser, and the Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, . . . the views in this manual do not necessarily reflect the views of those Departments or the U.S. Government as a whole.”

The new Manual is 1180 single-spaced pages (including the preface), and contains 6,916 footnotes,* so it’ll probably be a few hours before we can offer a comprehensive analysis, especially since we’re still absorbing Zivotofsky and al Bahlul.  (That’s tongue-in-cheek, of course:  Analysis of the new manual will be filling the blogs, and law reviews, and conferences, for years to come–perhaps even longer than it took to write the manual!)

Notably, and laudably, the Department invites “comments and suggestions from users of the DoD Law of War Manual,” which should be addressed by email to:


* Baxter’s 1956 version had none, I believe–which probably tells us something about the development of war, or law, or some combination thereof, in the intervening six decades.

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About the Author

is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.