International Law: LOAC

Hays Parks on the Demise of the DOD Law of War Manual

By Robert Chesney
Saturday, December 8, 2012, 3:39 PM

Last week in DC, the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security put on its annual "review of the field" conference.  It was a great event, as always.  One of the highlights was a very interesting speech delivered by Hays Parks, who among many other achievements in a long and distinguished career had taken the lead in the multi-year process of producing a DOD Law of War Manual.  The effort to publish that manual now appears to be dead in the water, for better or worse, and the speech Hays gave at last week's meeting is something of a post-mortem providing his view as to why things stalled.  The speech is posted here, and is well-worth a read (it is a mere 7 pages, so it won't take long).  Others involved in the internal debates surrounding the manual of course may have a different perspective on what went wrong, and if we hear from any of them we'll be sure to pass that along as well.   Meanwhile, I will note my disappointment at the thought that this project has truly collapsed, wherever the fault lies.  LOAC is in the midst of a potentially-transformative period, and it is remarkable and risky for the U.S. government in general and the Pentagon in particular to sit quietly on the sidelines (of course we do have various important speeches from DOD and other officials, as well as a variety of litigation-driven documents, but that's not the same thing as a well-considered Law of War Manual).