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National Military Manuals on the Law of Armed Conflict

Oslo, 10 December 2007

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The law of armed conflict is a culmination of practice and agreements between warring states meticulously observed and recorded over the centuries. However, it has long proved a major challenge to ensure that the law is known to the armed forces, understood by their members and observed on the ground. Additional Protocol I of 1977 obligates contracting states to provide competent legal advisers, acquaint military and relevant civilian personnel with the law and require commanders to take preventive and/or punitive action vis-à-vis non-compliance by their subordinates. Military manuals are meant to help the armed forces clarify those rules of warfare by which their states consider themselves bound. Good manuals offer sound operational guidance to the military in the field and reduce indeterminacies of the rules for their addressees. Where within the broad legal, institutional and normative framework of the armed forces (e.g., domestic law including criminal law, military justice, operational doctrine, rules of engagement and battlefield ethics) does a military manual fall? What are the functions and status of military manuals under the law of armed conflict? How are the intended beneficiaries of military manuals trained on them? Have military manuals been effective in doing what they are intended to do? What role have they played in peace operations? How should military manuals deal with the fluid realities of warfare? In what way would related fields of international law, such as international human rights law and international criminal law, be incorporated into military manuals? Is a military manual really necessary for a state which does not have one yet? Might there be a 'Nordic military manual'?

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