Military Law



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Military Law is founded on the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ applies to all branches of the US military and governs most issues of legal concern for soldiers and others subject to the jurisdiction of US military courts. For example, the UCMJ covers the different types of court-martial, the apprehension and treatment of prisoners (both foreign and domestic), and the trial process for military tribunals. The UCMJ also covers the rules governing military jurisdiction, legal investigations, discharges from the service, the release and revision of military records, post-trial review procedures, and appellate procedures. The UCMJ applies to all active-duty, reservist, national guard, and retired military personnel.

The Laws of War (also known as “juris in bello”), on the other hand, refers to the international laws pertaining to acceptable justifications for nations to take military action against another and the limits of acceptable wartime conduct (e.g., treatment of prisoners, acceptance of surrender, use of biological/chemical weapons, and prohibitions against needlessly targeting civilians). This body of law is almost entirely comprised of treaty agreements and rules promulgated by the United Nations.

The laws of war are designed to limit war to achieving the political goals that started the war (e.g., territorial control) and should not include unnecessary destruction. They are also based on a notion that wars should be brought to an end as quickly as possible and that people and property that are not directly a part of the war effort should be protected against unnecessary destruction and hardship. To that end, the laws of war are designed to mitigate hardship by protecting both combatants and noncombatants from unnecessary harm, protecting prisoners of war who fall into enemy hands, and facilitating the restoration of peace.

Military necessity, along with distinction, and proportionality, are the three main principles of the laws of war. “Military necessity” means an attack or action must be intended to help in the military defeat of the enemy, it must be an attack on a military target, and the harm caused to civilians and civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. “Distinction” refers to the legal use of force in an armed conflict, where a distinction is made between targeting combatants and noncombatants. “Proportionality” relates to the efforts made by the combatants to ensure that the harm caused to civilians or civilian property is not excessive in relation to the direct, concrete military advantage anticipated by an attack on a military objective.

The resources below provide additional information on both military law and the laws of war.

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Articles on HG.org Related to Military Law

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Military Law - US

  • Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM)

    The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM), headed by Assistant Secretary Andrew J. Shapiro, is the Department of State's principal link to the Department of Defense. The PM Bureau provides policy direction in the areas of international security, security assistance, military operations, defense strategy and plans, and defense trade.

  • Uniform Code of Military Justice

    In its endeavor to create an extensive and readily accessible internet site dedicated to military legal resources, the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Legal Center & School Library in Charlottesville, VA, has focused this part of the site on a comprehensive legislative history of one of the principal documents of military law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ is a federal law enacted by Congress; it may be cited as United States Code, Title 10, Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 47.

  • United States Department of Defense

    The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country. The department's headquarters is at the Pentagon.

  • US Military

    Information and resources about the United States Military Justice System, such as the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), court martials, administrative action, service members civil relief act, military lawyers, and laws that affect military members.

Military Law - International

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    The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is the world’s leading authority on political-military conflict.

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  • NATO - Role of the International Military Staff

    The International Military Staff (IMS) is the executive agency of the Military Committee. It provides staff support to the Military Committee and is responsible for the preparation of assessments, studies and other papers on NATO military matters. The IMS also ensures that decisions and policies on military matters are implemented by the appropriate NATO military bodies. The IMS provides the essential link between the political decision-making bodies of the Alliance and the NATO Strategic Military Commanders (SACEUR and SACT) and their staffs.

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Organizations Related to Military Law

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    The Official Web site of the United States Air Force

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    Official U.S. Marine Corps Web Site

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    The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.

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    The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Community Relations, fosters public awareness and understanding of Department of Defense (DoD) missions, personnel, programs and requirements.

Publications Related to Military Law