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The Department of Defense Announces Update to the Law of War Manual

Press Operations

Release No: NR-442-16
Dec. 13, 2016
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Today, the Department of Defense released an update to the Law of War Manual.

The manual is a guide for DoD personnel responsible for implementing the law of war and executing military operations.  It reflects our country’s long tradition of respect for the law of war.  This is the second update to the manual since DoD first released it in June 2015.

The updated manual substantially enhances the discussion of the principle of proportionality and provides minor updates to other sections.  Proportionality is a key legal principle that helps protect civilians in armed conflict by precluding unreasonable or excessive use of force. 

“Protecting civilians in armed conflict is critical, and it’s important that our legal guidance is clear and practical,” said DoD General Counsel Jennifer O’Connor.  “This version of the manual provides greater clarity and also reflects important developments such as the president’s recent executive order on civilian casualties.”

The revised manual provides more examples of the precautions that DoD takes to reduce the likelihood of causing civilian casualties, such as providing warnings, conducting assessments of potential civilian casualties, and analyzing which weapons to use.  The update also explains in greater detail how DoD implements the requirement to refrain from conducting attacks when harm to civilians is expected to be excessive.  For example, the manual makes clear that civilians working in military facilities and “human shields” generally are civilians who are protected by these requirements.

Over the last few months, DoD has participated in multiple public forums and listened to comments and suggestions about how to improve the sections of the manual that address proportionality. 

“The department strives to be clear and transparent about the legal framework that guides our operations,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook.  “The release of public information such as this manual update allows for a more informed public debate, which is crucial to the rule of law.”

The department will update the manual further as needed to ensure DoD personnel have the best resource for understanding and complying with the law of war.

The updated manual is publicly available at the “News” tab on Defense.gov under “Publications,” along with the previous editions of the manual.