PURPOSES AND BASIC PRINCIPLES OF THE LAW OF WAR
The fundamental purposes of the law of war are both humanitarian and functional in nature. The humanitarian
protecting both combatants and noncombatants from unnecessary suffering;
safeguarding the fundamental human rights of persons who fall into the hands of armed belligerents; and
The functional purposes include:
preventing the deterioration of good order and discipline in the unit;
maintaining the humanity of the soldiers involved in the conflict; and
maintaining the support of the public for the conflict.
To further the above ends, the Law of War rests on four basic principles:
Principle of Military Necessity or Military Objective - This principle states that attacks may be made only against
those targets which are valid military objectives. The definition of military objective is found in Article 52(2) of Protocol
I: Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives. In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives are
limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action
and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite
Examples of enemy military objectives which by their nature make an effective contribution to the military action:
combatants, armored fighting vehicles, weapons, fortifications, combat aircraft and helicopters, supply depots of
Examples of enemy military objectives which by their location make an effective contribution to the military action:
A narrow mountain pass through which the enemy formation must pass, bridge over which the enemy's main supply
route (MSR) crosses, a key road intersection through which the enemy's reserve will pass, etc.
Examples of enemy military objectives which by their purpose make an effective contribution to the military action:
Civilian buses or trucks which are being transported to the front to move soldiers from point A to B, a factory which is
producing ball bearings for the military. The criterion of purpose is concerned with the intended future use of an object.
Examples of enemy military objectives which by their use make an effective contribution to the military action: An
enemy headquarters located in a school, an enemy supply dump located in a residence, a hotel which is used as billets for
enemy troops. The criterion of use is concerned with the present function of the object.
Criminal Defense. Military necessity has been urged as a defense to law of war violations, but generally has been
rejected as a defense for acts forbidden by customary and conventional laws of war. Rationale: laws of war were crafted
to include consideration of military necessity. Look to whether international law allows targeting of a person or property:
Protected Persons. The law of war generally prohibits the intentional targeting of protected persons under any
Protected Places - The Rendulic Rule. The law of war typically allows destruction of civilian property if military
circumstances necessitate such destruction. (FM 27-10, para. 56 and 58.) The circumstances justifying destruction of
protected property are those of "urgent military necessity" as they appear to the commander at the time of the decision.
See IX Nuremberg Military Tribunals, Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals, 1113 (1950).
Law of War