The Role of the United States Military Lawyer in Projecting a Vision of the Laws of War

20 Pages Posted: 30 Dec 2003

See all articles by Kenneth Anderson

Kenneth Anderson

American University - Washington College of Law


This article discusses the role of the United States military lawyer in projecting a moral vision of the laws of war, rather than simply acting in a technical and purely lawyerly fashion. The article argues that it is essential that US military lawyers acting in laws of war matters, and especially acting in diplomacy related to laws of war treaties, be willing to project the moral vision which underlies US military interpretations of the laws of war, beyond pure legalism, in order to compete with the moral visions of the laws of war expressed by human rights and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) who, believing that they represent humanity in the abstract, rather than some set of parochially national interests, therefore believe that the interpretation, enunciation, evolution, and ownership of the laws of war properly belongs to NGOs and not to military establishments, and not to the US military establishment in particular. The article considers the cases of the Ottawa convention banning landmines, the International Criminal Court debates, and the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo to critique the failure of US military lawyers to assert a moral vision of the laws of war that goes beyond mere national interest or the interest of the United States as a client. It concludes with a call for US military lawyers and their institutional government client to find a role for military lawyers to express a moral vision based around the core concept of the protection of noncombatants, and move beyond mere legalism.

Keywords: Laws of War, international humanitarian law, Geneva Conventions, military lawyers, nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, human rights, war, International Criminal Court, Protocol I, landmines, Guantanamo detainees

JEL Classification: K33, L30, L31

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Kenneth, The Role of the United States Military Lawyer in Projecting a Vision of the Laws of War. Chicago Journal of International Law, Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 2003. Available at SSRN: or

Kenneth Anderson (Contact Author)

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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