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.
Know Your Rights!
Articles on HG.org Related to Military Law
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- The Defense Base Act: A Brief History and Explanation of the Administration of BenefitsThe Defense Base Act is a federal workers' compensation program, which provides medical and wage-replacement benefits to military contractors injured while working on a wide variety of U.S. defense projects worldwide.
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- Settlement for Baby's Death at Military HospitalWhen a four-month-old’s parents brought her to the Emergency Room at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii on October 18, 2012, their infant had been suffering from an upper respiratory infection accompanied by labored breathing.
- Florida Military Ex-Spouses Should Review Benefits after DivorceMany Florida residents who are ex-spouses of military personnel may be unaware that they may be eligible for benefits after they have been divorced.
- Military Sexual Assault IssuesThe U.S. Defense Department released its findings about the incidence of sexual assault and rape in our nation’s military. The report includes statistics from an anonymous survey and from reported incidents on file. According to the department’s results, the number of sexual assaults decreased over the past two years. In 2012, the survey found 26,000 victims of sexual assault in the military which decreased to 19,000 in 2014. These incidents are for unwanted sexual conduct including rape.
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- What Are The Laws Regarding Declaring War?Since its inception, the U.S. has been required to take military action of one sort or another under every president and administration, even before the United States of America had a Constitution. Since the creation of the U.S. Constitution, however, the United States has had laws regarding declaring war. Certain military actions can be taken without formal declarations of war, others cannot. So what are the laws regarding declaring war?
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Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Government including: administrative law, case law, election and political law, federal law, government contracts, local, municipal and state law, military law, public law, regulatory law, US federal courts.
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
- Beyond Intractability - International War Crimes Tribunals
Efforts to limit the terrible destructiveness commonly associated with intractable conflicts ultimately depend on the ability of people in a full range of conflict roles to successfully play their part in a broad peacebuilding effort. Though each circumstance is, to some degree, unique, there is also much to be learned from others who have solved similar problems before. The goal of the Beyond Intractability (BI) system is to make such knowledge more widely and freely accessible, so people aren't forced to "reinvent the wheel." To the extent we can all contribute to a knowledge base on better ways of approaching and transforming intractable conflicts, the closer we can come to limiting the destructiveness of these situations around the world.
- International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts
The United Nations established special international criminal tribunals in Rwanda and Yugoslavia to prosecute those responsible for atrocities during times of war and genocide. Successful convictions of these political and military leaders are meant to bring justice to victims and to deter others from committing such crimes in the future.
- International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is the world’s leading authority on political-military conflict.
- International Peace Operations Association (IPOA)
IPOA’s mission is to: promote high operational and ethical standards of firms active in the peace and stability operations industry; to engage in a constructive dialogue and advocacy with policy-makers about the growing and positive contribution of these firms to the enhancement of international peace, development and human security; to provides unique networking and business development opportunities for its member companies; and to inform the concerned public about the activities and role of the industry.
- 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.
- The Geneva Conventions of 1949
The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are at the core of international humanitarian law, the body of international law that regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects. They specifically protect people who are not taking part in the hostilities (civilians, health workers and aid workers) and those who are no longer participating in the hostilities, such as wounded, sick and shipwrecked soldiers and prisoners of war.
Organizations Related to Military Law
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- United States Air Force
The Official Web site of the United States Air Force
- United States Army
This section covers the Army's leadership, warfighting capabilities and operations. Content in this section will change over time as the Army adapts to meet new threats.
- United States Department of Veteran Affaires
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was established as a Cabinet-level position on March 15, 1989. President Bush hailed the creation of the new Department saying, "There is only one place for the veterans of America, in the Cabinet Room, at the table with the President of the United States of America."
- United States Marine Corps
Official U.S. Marine Corps Web Site
- United States Navy
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.
- US Department of Defense - Community Relations
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.