A Readers’ Guide to our Mini-Forum on DOD’s new Law of War Manual

As you’ve probably noticed this summer, we’ve been hosting a mini-forum on the Defense Department’s Law of War Manual that was published earlier this summer. As Marty Lederman pointed out at the time, this publication is the Pentagon’s first comprehensive manual on the law of war since 1956, and was more than 25 years in the making.

Our contributors have weighed in on a wide range of questions and topics about the manual, including our latest post from Chris Jenks exploring whether DOD  has missed an opportunity to implement the law of war as a matter of policy. Given the importance of this document, we thought we’d collect and organize the posts below for your convenience. 

Purposes and Influence of the Manual

Law of War Manual: Information or Authoritative Guidance?, Eric Jensen discusses the manual’s dual roles, serving as both information for military personnel and authoritative guidance on how the US views the practice of the law of armed conflict. July 1, 2015.

The DOD Law of War Manual’s Potential Contribution to International Law, John Dehn looks at the manual’s attempt to limit its impact upon international and domestic law and suggests that the manual should actually be afforded significant weight well beyond the DOD. July 16, 2015.

The DOD Law of War Manual: What Is it Good For?, David Glazier asks what authority the manual should have both within and outside the US military, pointing out that the manual may not deserve as much weight as the document’s name suggests. July 28, 2015.

A Missed Opportunity: DOD’s Law of War Manual & Applying Law as a Matter of Policy, Chris Jenks questions how well the manual achieves its stated purpose of providing information to military lawyers on the law of war, particularly given military commanders’ and legal advisers’ need for information about specific DOD policies. August 7, 2015.

Principles of the Law of War 

The DOD Law of War Manual’s Return to Principles, Sean Watts discusses the manual’s reinstated focus on principles of the law of war rather than rule-like constructions, walking through how the DOD’s conceptions of military necessity, humanity, and honor may change how military lawyers think about the law of war. June 30, 2015.

Precautions to Minimize Civilian Harm Are a Fundamental Principle of the Law of War, Geoffrey Corn writes on the DOD’s failure to recognize the obligation to take all feasible precautions to mitigate the risk to civilians and their property resulting from military operations as a principle of the law of war. July 8, 2015.

The Law of War Is Not About “Chivalry”, Rachel VanLandingham examines the manual’s focus on honor and chivalry, arguing that there are better principles, including shared humanity, to emphasize as grounding the law of war. July 20, 2015.

Specific Guidance in the Manual

DOD’s Unbalanced Stance on Precautions Against Harming Civilians, Adil Ahmad Haque writes about the DOD’s position on taking precautions in an attack, arguing the DOD’s definition of “feasible” doesn’t effectively mirror customary international law. July 7, 2015.

Let’s Balance the Argument About the DOD Law of War Manual and Targeting, Charles Dunlap responds to Haque, providing context on the ICRC’s interpretation of previous US statements on the requirements of taking precautions to avoid unnecessary civilian harm. July 10, 2015.

Cyber Conflict in DOD’s Law of War Manual, Gary Brown explores the manual’s positions on cyber warfare, including its positions on what constitutes a cyber attack, and pointing out the relative dearth of guidance on what constitutes a cyber weapon and what rules apply to cyber espionage. July 27, 2015.

The DOD Law of War Manual Returns Hollow Point Bullets to Armed Conflict, Joshua Berry looks at the manual’s discussion of weapons law focusing on its statement that use of expanding ammunition (i.e., “hollow point” bullets) is lawful according to the law of war. August 4, 2015.

Other Documents of Interest

The DOD’s press release announcing the release of the manual can be found here.

Richard Baxter’s 1956 Army Field Manual on the Law of Land Warfare can be found here. 

About the Author(s)

Just Security

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