Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, 2009

7 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2011

See all articles by James Kraska

James Kraska

Stockton Center for International Law, U.S. Naval War College; Harvard University - Harvard Law School; University of California Berkeley School of Law; Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)

Date Written: December 1, 2009


In any armed conflict, the right of the parties to select the method and means of warfare is not unlimited and the civilian population may not be the target of attack. In particular, siege implicates the principles of distinction and → proportionality in the law of armed conflict. The besieging force must distinguish between the garrison force and entrapped civilians and may only use proportional force in prosecuting the siege. But siege avails itself to area weapons and indirect fire, such as artillery, placing the operational art of siege often in conflict with the rules protecting the civilian population. Weapons and methods of warfare that are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering are prohibited. The development of the law with regard to siege has been directed at permitting the belligerent to overtake an enemy stronghold while sparing the civilian population and → civilian objects as much as possible. International humanitarian law provides governing principles applicable for both attack and defence in siege. Art. 49 → Geneva Conventions Additional Protocol I (1977) (‘AP I’) defines ‘attack’ as any act of violence against an adversary, and may apply both in offensive or defensive dimensions of siege.

Keywords: humanitarian law, law of armed conflict, siege, proportionality, suffering, civilian, warfare, ancient, LOAC

Suggested Citation

Kraska, James, Siege (December 1, 2009). Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, 2009, Available at SSRN:

James Kraska (Contact Author)

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