• Send page
  • Print page

Books and reviews: "Law on the Battlefield"

30-06-1996 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 312, by Bruno Doppler

A.P.V. Rogers , " Law on the Battlefield " , Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York, 1996, 170 pp.

 Bruno Doppler  , Head, ICRC Division for Dissemination to the Armed Forces  

This 170-page book meets most of the needs of the military commander in the field. It is about the legal rules that should be known and incorporated into the military decision-making process by all officers holding command responsibility, before they issue orders to their subordinates. Law on the Battlefield is not a manual, it is not a legal treatise, it is not a handbook. Although the author, Major General A.P.V. Rogers, is himself a lawyer in the British armed forces, the precise and concise language of this " Vademecum for the military commander " is written in language understandable to all. It has the merit of shedding light on some rather obscure aspects of the law of armed conflict, without becoming too technical for the non-lawyer.

The book does not cover all aspects of the law of armed conflict. The author has tried to single out those rules that are relevant on the battlefield, as indicated in the title. Therefore the emphasis has been placed on " Hague-type law " . " Geneva-type law " , i.e. the law protecting the victims of armed conflict, has been left out.

If only one page of this book were to be spared in the event of fire, I hope it would be page 70, in the conclusion to Chapter 3, " Precautions in attack " . That page gives a most useful " checklist " of principles of law that should be engraved in every commander's mind. At least all professional soldiers should know the eight listed rules by heart. Much human misery and hardship and many political and also military difficulties could then be avoided. All those who read this little book will come to the conclusion that peace and war must be subject to certain rules if there are to be no further Rwanda or Yugoslavia.

Although Law on the Battlefield seems to be meant for the practitioner, the lawyer (civilian or military) and the interested layman will also find plenty of useful information, references and historical examples that illustrate problems encountered by military commanders in recent history, including the 1990-91 Gulf war.

Maybe a chapter summing up the customary rules governing the conduct of hostilities would have been useful in view of the various types of present-time conflicts that very often are but marginally covered by international humanitarian law. Some thoughts of the author about military operations under the umbrella of the United Nations might have been interesting as well.

In conclusion, I feel that General Rogers has written a most useful book. Perhaps the chapters devoted to cultural property and the environment are somewhat too technical and some remarks about the problems related to the use of mines might have enriched this publication, which should nonetheless find its place in every military unit.

For any military readers who are short of time I recommend the " General Principles " and all the conclusions to the chapters. If they assimilate this information, incorporate it in their daily military duties and pass it on to their subordinates, maybe the judges of the international criminal tribunals currently being set up will have some spare time to l isten to Franz Schubert's music, which the author seems to cherish...