The DoD Law of War Manual and its Critics: Some Observations

One of the most important law of war documents to emerge recently is the much-anticipated U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Law of War Manual.  Decades in development, the 1,200 + page treatise aims to state the lex lata (the law as it is, not as we might want it to be) of the international law of war – or at least DoD’s opinion in that regard.

Almost immediately, however, the Manual drew criticism, much of aired on blogs like Just Security and Lawfare, but also in op-eds in major media outlets.  The New York Times, for example, published an apoplectic editorial condemning the Manual’s assessment of the law related to those who claim to be journalists.  As I detailed elsewhere, that claim was way off-base.

But there have been other critiques of various aspects of the Manual, including serious debate about its treatment of a variety of issues including human shields, cyber operations, the precautions to be taken prior to attacks, and even the role of honor in war.

My own view is set out in a just-published article (The DoD Law of War Manual and its Critics: Some Observations) in a new issue of the International Law Studies (92 Int’l L. Stud. 85 (2016)).  Although this article does not purport to be a comprehensive response to every critique of the Manual and, indeed, cites opportunities for its improvement, it nevertheless concludes that on balance the Manual provides an excellent, comprehensive, and much-needed statement of DoD’s interpretation of the law of war.

No doubt the Manual will continue to generate discussion, and I may have more for you after participating in an upcoming Loyola Chicago Law of War Symposium on February 12th.

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