New Casebook on the Law of Armed Conflict

by Kevin Jon Heller

CornetalSince I was unable to attend their book launch at Georgetown yesterday, the least I can do is put in a hearty plug for a new casebook written by a number of superb IHL scholars: Geoff Corn, Victor Hansen, Chris Jenks, Richard Jackson, Eric Jensen, and James Schoettler. It’s entitled The Law of Armed Conflict: An Operational Approach, and it more than lives up to its name — which not surprising, given that all of the authors have vast experience in the military. Here is the description:

The Law of Armed Conflict: An Operational Approach comes to students with stunning authority. All of the authors are active or retired United States Army officers with more than 140 years of collective military operational experience among them. Several have experience in both legal and operational assignments as well.  They deliver a comprehensive coverage of all aspects of the law of armed conflict, explaining the difference between law and policy in regulation of military operations. The Law of Armed Conflict provides a complete operational scenario and introduction to the operational organization of United States forces. The focus remains on United States law perspective, balanced with exposure to areas where the interpretation of its allied forces diverge. Jus ad bellum and jus in bello issues are addressed at length. Rich with documentation and examples, the text includes excerpts from treaties and treaty commentaries, domestic and international cases, Department of Defense directives, service field manuals, and regulations implementing legal obligations. Its unique pedagogy is based on overviews of each topical area of the law and utilizes a wartime scenario. Students experience operational legal issues from pre-deployment preparation through post-conflict stability operations to war crimes investigation and prosecution. Carefully crafted problems, most based on actual operational experience, follow each chapter and place the student in the position of a military legal adviser providing operational legal advice.  In this way, students enhance their understanding of the relevance of the law in planning and executing military operations. Designed for either a three or four credit offering, 14 chapters correspond to a 14-week course.

A robust ancillary package accompanies the text with solutions to all study problems, model exam questions (multiple choice, short answer, essay,) recommended supplemental sources, suggested video clips to illustrate issues, Power Point slides for each chapter, and a website with links to all primary sources.

I have already used the book in my scholarship multiple times, and I am sure it will be a great text for any IHL course. The operational emphasis is particularly exciting; when I’ve taught IHL to UN field officers and to officers from various militaries, I’ve always found practical exercises to be the most effective way to convey the basic rules and principles of IHL. Anyone who teaches IHL will definitely want to check the book out.

6 Responses

  1. This is a casebook, right? In what sense, then, is “the operational emphasis particularly exciting”? I would think the adjective here is rather redundant and used as one of those in-group buzzwords meant to carry cache in particular circles but signifies little of meaningful consequence or originality. I no doubt sound cranky and irritated and perhaps I am. This is one of those words I think has come to be virtually bereft of clear reference. I hope others might persuade me otherwise. This takes nothing whatsoever away from the value of this publication, which would survive intact if the word “operational” disappeared, at least in the subtitle and perhaps elsewhere as well.

  2. Before responding, please count the number of times “operations” and “operational” are found in the above description. Oh my!

  3. Another way to make the point: what purpose would a non-operational casebook on the Law of Armed Conflict serve? Could there be such a thing?

  4. In my opinion, ‘The Law of Armed Conflict: An Approach’ would not make very much sense at all as a title. Nor would a text on IHL which floats up in the airy heights of legal theory with little by way of practical instruction for those who actually have to make decisions in the course of military operations – which is evidently the gist.

  5. I did not propose “An Approach” as a subtitle, and casebooks generally are designed to have practical value, to be applied, used, etc. in their respective areas of the the law, that’s their pedagogical purpose. Indeed, I have yet to come across a casebook that appears intended to “float[] up in the airy heights of legal theory.” Do you assume that anything not qualified by “operational” is thereby “theoretical” (pejoratively or otherwise)? I certainly did not make that assumption or presume that to be the case. In other words, that it is “operational” should (and used to) go without saying. Are there other casebooks on the law of armed conflict with primarily theoretical orientations with no value or purpose for those, so to speak, “on the ground?”

  6. I congratulate them on the book and hope to have a review copy as soon as possible so I can think about it for my work.  I am curious about the treatment of “unable and unwilling”.  I have just seen an excellent paper by Dawood Ahmed noted by Robert Chesny that is up at as “Defending Weak States Against the “Unwilling or Unable” Doctrine of Self-Defense” ( that should be in every casebook in contrast to the Ashley Deeks article.                                                                                                          

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