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
- Active Duty Service Members – Where Should I File for Divorce?When someone is part of the armed forces, there are unique rules regarding the divorce process that apply to the servicemember and his or her spouse. Often individuals in the armed forces move frequently and may claim residency in a different state than where they are currently stationed. Servicemembers and their spouses may have additional places where they can file. Where they file can have a significant impact on their divorce.
- Business Enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices ActThe enactment of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977 makes it illegal for certain classes of persons and entities to make payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business. The FCPA works hand-in-hand with the anti-bribery laws to prohibit the use of any means that provides possible corrupted interstate commerce.
- Protection for Intelligence Agency WhistleblowersWhistleblowers in the intelligence agency locations could require additional protections after the supervisors or management have been exposed for illegal or fraudulent activity. It is important that these persons are safeguarded from retaliation, negative consequences and possible problems form others in the same field.
- Why President Eisenhower’s Dire Warning Is Still RelevantIt’s been well over five decades since the sitting President of the United States issued a grave warning to his fellow Americans as part of his farewell address. Amid the Cold War, the president focused his words on the many threats facing our nation, including the influence of our chief global rival in imposing their ideology and military might.
- "Parole In Place" for Family Members of U.S. Military Service Members and Former U.S. Military Service MembersThe Attorney General has limited discretionary authority to grant parole to an alien who is in the United States without an immigration status. This exercise of parole is called “parole in place.”
- 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.
- Texas Veterans Court Eligibility Gets Much-Needed Expansion from Texas LegislatureThat past legislative session, the Texas legislature made change to the eligibility requirements for Texas' Veterans Courts, introducing more discretion into the process. These courts are an important part of taking care of the veterans support our freedom by providing a diversion and treatment program.
- Victims of Mesothelioma Cancer Due to Asbestos Exposure Have Legal RightsIndividuals who have developed mesothelioma cancer, asbestosis, lung cancer, or other diseases linked to asbestos exposure may be eligible to file a lawsuit and receive compensation for the injuries and the cost of medical care.
- 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?
- If Your Spouse Files for Divorce While on DeploymentEven under the best of circumstances a marriage can be difficult and often times will not work out. Being a service member whose duty at times requires overseas deployment for long periods of time can lend even more strain.
- All Government Law Articles
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
- Military Heroes
Since September 2006, the Department of Defense has highlighted the military men and women who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in the Global War on Terror. These are our American Heroes' stories.
- 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.