Bayonets and the Law of Edged Weapons

by Kenneth Anderson

With zero desire to enter into debates about bayonets and all that politically, purely as an aside I thought OJ readers would be the sorts of people who would take an interest in … the law of edged weapons.  There is law on the subject; I used to run across it particularly in older operational law military manuals (as I recall it is mentioned (somewhere) in the ancient US military manual, FM 27-10, which I don’t have to hand).  For that matter, were the US to decide to introduce a new bayonet or other edged weapon, US regulations would require that it go through a formal weapons review for compliance with the law of armed conflict. Rooting through my home bookshelf (sitting out Hurricane Sandy), I find a paragraph devoted to the law of edged weapons in the excellent new textbook by Corn, Hansen, Jackson, Jenks, Jensen, and Schoettler, The Law of Armed Conflict: An Operational Approach.  Here’s a quick excerpt:

Military bayonets and knives have often been forged with a serrated edge, to assist the soldier in cutting barbed wire or small trees.  As long as the serrated edge is not designed to aggravate a wound, like the “barbed lance” prohibited by U.S. Army doctrine, the creation of a tool that is also used as a weapon is not a per se LOAC violation.  Bayonets designed for the purpose of creating a vacuum wound … are probably unlawful because they make treating the wounded combatant more difficult.

3 Responses

  1. Among weapons outlawed per se are lances with barbed heads (because when you take them out of the enemy’s body, they rip and tear in a manner so as to produce unnecessary death, suffering, or injury — per se). See FM 27-10 at 18, para. 34 b — interpreting 1907 Hague No. IV, Annex, art. 23(e) in view of subsequent practice and opinio juris regarding such.  Some weapons are illegal per se and some uses of some weapons are illegal because their use in context produces unnecessary d, s or i.

  2. “are probably unlawful because they make treating the wounded combatant more difficult”

    I do not have the textbook at hand, and am therefore reluctant to critique, but my first thought is the mere fact the design makes treating the wound more difficult is not determinative. Is there a military purpose for the design (eg, makes withdrawing the bayonet easier)? The issue is one of ‘unnecessary suffering’ or uselessly aggravating a wound.

  3. Jordan, thanks for the cite to FM 27-10 – weird to be without shelves and shelves of books.  Ian –  I don’t think they are looking to be definitive here, and I think they’d agree a determinative analysis is more complicated.

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