This seminar considers the international laws and conventions that should limit the application of air power. Humanity, proportionality, and military necessity remain the underlying tenets of the application of air power. Should international law ever be overlooked in order to achieve a military victory? Some think so, do you? This seminar is a vital and most important segment of the course. 


Does international law favour the offensive air campaign?

Most absolutely…offensive ≠ indiscriminate or disproportionate.

In 1928 the Chief of the Air Staff RAF wrote in his paper The War Object of an Air Force’What is illegitimate, as being contrary to the dictates of humanity, is the indiscriminate bombing of a city for the sole purpose of terrorising the civilian population’. Would you regard this as evidence that the higher command of the RAF was fully aware of jus in bello?

Possibly…looking at the history of papers and articles written by air forces leaders, it is clear that there is a difference between what may be written in a paper, perhaps to foster or provoke debate and what actual policy and doctrine might be. Without context and supporting evidence, this constitutes little more than opinion.

In February 1942 the Chief of the Air Staff, RAF, Sir Charles Portal wrote to the C-in-C Bomber Command …’I suppose it is clear that the aiming points are to be the built up areas, not, for instance, the dockyards or aircraft factories….This must be made quite clear if it is not already understood’. Would such a directive constitute a war crime today?

Again, this is a brief statement with no supporting context and thus rather meaningless. Is it a case of national survival? It states ‘built-up areas’, not centres of population…are such ‘built-up areas’ inhabited or just convenient and/or practical centres of mass for applying force? Today, without an operational context and much more information, the legality of this approach cannot be considered; certainly it does not call for direct attacks against the population and could in fact easily be employed as part of the much-vaunted Warden ‘doctrine’.

Do you think the provisions of Protocol 1 unduly hamper the proper use of air power?

No. That would entirely depend upon what effects are desired/required in support of national objectives, and what means might be available to create those effects.

Was the principle of Proportionality contravened with the destruction of the Republican Guard by air power while retreating from Kuwait at the end of the First Gulf War?

No, not really…firstly the Republican Guard was not destroyed and many of those killed in those attacks were just poor sods in the wrong place at the wrong time. If any ‘law’ was contravened it was more likely that of discrimination. But, then again, that unbridled use of air power may have discouraged a few of the other kids on the block from misbehaving so, in the global scheme of things, may have achieved a larger purpose in which it probably fell within accepted rules…which is just a bit unfortunate if you’d decided to take the new Merc for a spin up to Basra that week…

Can Protocol 1 be reconciled with Sherman’s view that war is cruelty and cannot be refined?

Easily…Sherman never said that it only applied to civilians or non-combatants; and it also takes into account that only a small proportion of combatants actually pay much more than lip service to accepted rules of war…

I found these questions very superficial and simplistic in regard to the weight of the actual issues which are neither superficial nor simple…and this didn’t really feel that compelled to develop the themes any further…the bottom lines remains the weighting added to national interest in determining the conduct of any campaign and while it may be easy to leap onto the moral high ground, it is quite another matter to conduct an effective campaign from that location. It may even be that an over-emphasis on one aspect proportionality, for example, simply shifts the moral breach to another area, perhaps the well-being of one’s own forces and nation…?

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