Category Archives: LOAC

Iran Fires on US Predator Drone: An Armed Conflict?

by Jessica Poarch

This morning, CNN reported that last Thursday (1 November 2012), Iranian fighter jets fired on a U.S. Predator drone. The Iranian government claims that the drone was fired on after it had entered Iranian airspace; however, the Pentagon’s official statement is that the drone was past the 12 nautical mile limit and was therefore over international waters when fired upon. The drone was not damaged.

With the amount of tension surrounding Iran and its nuclear program, the question of whether or not this action constitutes an armed conflict is interesting. An International Armed Conflict (IAC) is (1) a conflict between States that (2) leads to the intervention of armed forces (for more information on the types of armed conflicts, see the “LOAC Basics” tab above).

Determining whether or not an IAC could exist in this circumstance requires meeting both prongs of the definition laid out above.

(1) I think the fact that there is a conflict between the U.S. and Iran is a given, globally with issues over the Iranian nuclear program and locally over the issue of airspace. Further, (2) the intervention of armed force by Iran is also clear as the attackers were fighter jets flown by Iranian military pilots.

If we assume these two prongs are conclusively established, the question becomes whether or not we need two armed parties in order to have an armed conflict? CNN’s article calls the drone a “U.S. Air Force drone,” so for the sake of argument, we will say that this drone is considered to be a part of the U.S. military forces (thereby eliminating the other looming questions of who is driving and regulating the drone). However, if the drone is not armed and is only doing surveillance, is it considered a party to the “intervention of armed forces”?

In reality, the question of whether firing on the drone constitutes an IAC or not is moot as the armed conflict, if there was one, is now over, and its limited duration lead to no meaningful application for the rest of the LOAC. Nevertheless, as students of the law and observers of international relations, we must take note of this event, hoping that it is just another example of the growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and not the first shots fired in America’s next major conflict in the Middle East.

LOAC Principles in Current Events: War vs Armed Conflict

by Jessica Poarch
October 4, 2012

Yesterday, mortars from the ongoing conflict in Syria crossed the border and killed 5 civilians in Turkey. In response, the Turkish government “pounded targets inside Syria on Thursday in retaliation…” In spite of the damage caused to the Turkish people, the Prime Minister of Turkey’s staff came out with statements against war with Syria. This is a clear example of the differences between “armed conflict” and “war.” Turkey has not made a formal declaration of war against Syria, therefore no state of “war” exists. However, an armed conflict does exist between the two nations. International Armed Conflict is defined as the “recourse to armed forces [by one or more states] against another state, regardless of the reasons or the intensity of [the] confrontation.” It is clear therefore that an International Armed Conflict exists between Turkey and Syria.

Article Review: Losing the Forest for the Trees: Syria, Law and the Imperatives of Conflict Recognition

by Jessica Poarch

Have you ever wondered how to tell when a riot or internal dispute becomes a non-international armed conflict falling under the regulation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions? If the answer is yes, I highly recommend reading  “Losing the Forest for the Trees: Syria, Law and the Imperatives of Conflict Recognition” by Laurie R. Blank & Geoffrey S. Corn. This article can be found on Professor Corns’ SSRN page to which the title above is hyper-linked.

In the Article, while arguing for a new approach to Conflict Classification, the authors provide detailed analysis on the history, purpose, and current test used to classify conflicts as well as an explanation as to why proper classifications of conflict are vital to the future of the LOAC.

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by Travis Normand

Mark your calendars for the Advanced Course on the LOAC in Sanremo, Italy.  This course is sponsored by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law.

I first heard about the International Institute of Humanitarian Law a few years ago and have wanted to attend one of the organization’s workshops/conferences ever since.  My goal is to someday actually make it to Sanremo, Italy for one of these.

If you have the ability to attend, I have heard that it is more than worth the time and effort it takes to get there.

Advanced Course on the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC)
1- 5 October 2012
Sanremo, Italy

The Advanced Course on Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) is conducted in either English or French.  The Courses will run concurrently from 3 – 7 October 2011.  These courses provide a practical and contemporaneous consideration, at an advanced level, of LOAC issues with a particular focus on those impacting on interoperability in multinational operations.

Link to course website.

American Terrorism is a Criminal Matter

by Travis Normand

Here is another example of how terrorist activities are typically treated as a criminal matter, and not a LOAC matter, when they are attempted on U.S. soil.

US prosecutor: 18-year-old arrested for attempting to set off car bomb outside Chicago bar
Washington Post (
By Associated Press, Published 15 September 2012

CHICAGO — Undercover FBI agents arrested an 18-year-old American man who tried to detonate what he believed was a car bomb outside a downtown Chicago bar, federal prosecutors said Saturday.

Adel Daoud, a U.S. citizen from the Chicago suburb of Hillside, was arrested Friday night in an undercover operation in which agents pretending to be terrorists provided him with a phony car bomb.

Read the entire article HERE!

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A Discussion on Syria

by Jessica Poarch

Today the Economist reported that: “August was certainly the bloodiest month so far [in the Syrian Conflict]: as many as 4,000 may have died, 3,000 of them civilians and rebels, the rest soldiers or pro-regime militiamen. The death toll now often tops 250 a day. The opposition reckons that 23,000-plus Syrians have been killed since protests began in March last year; the UN, more conservatively, puts the toll at 17,000.”  (Read the rest of the article here).

The persistent and growing bloodshed raise questions about whether or not the International Community is doing enough to support the rebel force or to bring an end to the conflict. In the same article sighted above, the Economist notes that foreign governments are not ready for direct intervention into this Conflict, but should they be? For additional information on the debate check out this mornings Daine Rehm Show entitled “The Deepening Conflict In Syria“.

For me, as a student of LOAC, this is a reminder that there is no international police force to impose the LOAC rules on nations and people at war; a reminder that, as Gary Solis wrote in his book*, “At the best of times, LOAC is never more then imperfectly observed, and at the worst of times is very poorly, observed indeed. In fact, one must  admit that LOAC really does not work well at all. However, … we should perhaps not so much complain that the law of war does not work well, as marvel that it works at all.”

[*] Gary D. Solis, The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War, p 8.

A “Must Read” Article for Anyone New to the LOAC

by Travis Normand

When I started this blog, one of my main purposes was to create a place where people could go to learn about the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC or IHL).  It was my hope to create a place where you could find (1) basic information that facilitates an understanding of the LOAC, (2) links to other online LOAC resources, (3) current news concerning the LOAC, and (4) some commentary on the LOAC-related current events and news.

So, in keeping with No. 2 above, I must post an article that I found this morning:

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Red Cross Rules Syria is in Civil War

by Jessica Poarch

The following excerpt/quote is from an article that appeared in the on July 15, 2012 titled: Bashar al-Assad cold face prosecution as Red Cross rules Syria is in civil war – Declaration signals that Geneva-based organisation regards all civilians and detainees as protected under international law

“The ICRC ruling marks a significant moment in the Syrian uprising, which during the past year has changed from a series of anti-regime protests into a full-blown insurrection. It had previously said that localised states of civil war existed in Homs, Hama and Idlib. The ICRC is considered to be a guardian of the Geneva convention, which prescribes the rules of warfare. The declaration signals that the Geneva-based organisation regards all civilians and detainees as protected under international law.

Alexis Heeb, an ICRC spokesman in Geneva, said: “Now there are many places in Syria that fulfil requirements to be a called a non-international armed conflict, and the situation is fluid and constantly evolving.

‘What matters is that humanitarian law applies across the country, and that means civilians and those no longer taking part in the conflict are protected.’

Read the full story HERE  []

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Geoffrey Corn Responds to Mark Mazzetti, The Drone Zone

by Travis Normand

The following article appeared today over at and contains Prof. Geoffrey Corn’s response to Mark Mazzetti’s recent article (The Drone Zone).   Mazzetti is a national-security correspondent for The [NY] Times and is currently writing a book about the C.I.A. since 9/11.

If you haven’t visted, I highly recommend that you do.  It is one of the best, if not the best, sites covering all things related to the LOAC and National Security Law.  Some of the best and most knowledgeable people in this field regularly contribute at and you are sure to enjoy it.



By Kenneth Anderson
Monday, July 9, 2012 at 5:04 PM

Geoffrey Corn, professor of law at South Texas College of Law and former JAG officer and chief of the law of war branch of the international law division of the US Army, sends in the following comment on Ken Anderson’s earlier post on Mark Mazzetti’s New York Times Magazine article, “The Drone Zone.”  Our thanks to Geoff for the contribution:

[Prof. Geoff Corn’s Response:]

It seems especially troubling that anyone would suggest that stand-off warfare somehow negates the moral challenges associated with decisions that result in the taking of human life. In fact, it is quite possible that these type of targeting modalities produce unique moral challenges for the warrior. Underestimating the impact of having to set in motion kinetic weapons that kill others is unfortunate and misleading. Death and killing are an inevitable consequence of armed hostilities. While it is tempting to suggest that stand-off capabilities make this process easier for the warrior, the fact remains that moral individuals have to make those incredibly difficult decisions and have to live with the consequences of their actions.

There’s a certain moral clarity in close combat, to be sure, where one is personally at risk – exigency provides an often clear and unambiguous moral framework for the trigger puller, kill or be killed.  But that’s not the ideal kind of moral clarity; the ideal moral clarity allows for deliberation – and that deliberation is served by lowering personal risk to oneself and one’s forces and having time.  In other words, there’s another kind of moral clarity where the trigger puller – or the commander giving the order – is not at risk, does not have to consider the bare necessity of self-survival or the survival of those under one’s command, and can think harder about the strategic and tactical, moral and legal, reasons for pulling the trigger. It makes the moral decision harder, not easier, and perhaps not as clear as that of personal risk – but it is the kind of deliberative decision-making that drones (sometimes at least) allow us and which we should prefer, all things equal.

It therefore seems to me that stand-off warfare involves its own set of complex moral challenges for the warrior. For example, the process of going to work in the morning, engaging enemy belligerent targets with deadly force, and leaving that evening to return to the normalcy of the home and family place the warrior in an environment of conflicting contexts unlike any of his or her peers in the battle-space.  (Those who endured the two years of low intensity confrontations with the Panamanian Defense Forces in the late 1980s had a small taste of this, living in Panama with their families in the same place where they routinely conducted operations to defend U.S. facilities against the PDF.)

It is a mistake to assume killing, even in war, is easy. It is not. Indeed, the challenge of training warriors to kill on order has been a major focus of military training. As Telford Taylor noted, “war does not provide a license to kill; it creates a duty to kill.” I doubt that duty is easier to reconcile with moral instincts for a stand-off drone operator than a pilot engaged in close air support.

How stand-off warfare will impact the nature of armed hostilities is obviously an important and complex issue. Let’s not lose sight of the fact, however, that in the end it still requires us to call upon members of our society – individuals with exceptional moral and ethical instincts – to “pull a trigger.” I don’t think attenuation from the target makes that decision any easier.  It may in fact make it harder.