Law of War. ROE, and Code of Conduct

Future Officers,

This subject might seem dry and easy to comprehend now especially in a classroom setting but this is one of the most important topics to understand.

The Law of War (Law of Armed Conflict), Rules of Engagement (ROE) and Code of Conduct are all value-based rules and guidelines used to govern how the military will act on a day-to-day basis. Failure to follow these rules and guidelines even at the Soldier level can have strategic and global implications. Interpretation of the Rules of Engagement may vary from command to command and from region to region but, the Law of War and Code of Conduct can be applied across the spectrum for all operations. It is imperative that you understand these ideals in a classroom setting because one of your future implied tasks is the implementation and enforcement of them. What is also important is the application of these principles in a setting that is other than ideal.

The Law of War or now more commonly known as the Law of Armed Conflict is a set of rules that govern military operations which consists of three areas military necessity, distinction and proportionality. These ideals are non-negotiable, self-explanatory and can be applied across the spectrum of operations. Understand that they do exist and we do have to abide but this only applies to civilized nations that have common values and similar Law of War concepts.

The Army Code of conduct is six articles that provide military personal guidelines addressing how U.S. personnel in combat should act to evade, resist, and seek escape should they be captured by an opposing force. The Army Code of Conduct is universal in nature and as future leaders you must be familiar with them and their application.

The rules of engagement or their interpretation by the senior commanders is not always unilateral across theaters or even geographic barriers. Examples to this are numerous in nature and can range from simple acts to those that might produce headlines on major media outlets. Hostile intent under the rules of engagement created much of the controversy. Take for example ROE that my company used in Ramadi in 2006-2007. The interpretation of a hostile act committed by the enemy was seen differently than in Baghdad. An individual that conducted numerous passes by a Bradley Fighting Vehicle was seen as a hostile action due to the engagement techniques used by the enemy in the area. This however, was not viewed as a hostile act in areas of Baghdad simply because the enemy conducted actions differently. As a future officer, it is paramount that you and your Soldiers understand the ROE and its interpretation and how it applies your area of operations.

As an officer in today’s Army, you have a higher responsibility than just understanding the previously mentioned concepts. Your mission will be to apply, educate, and enforce these standards within your future formations.

MAJ Adam Rudy
MAJ George Cowles

    • stewiegriffin519
    • November 11th, 2009

    Sir,

    When you say, “Understand that they do exist and we do have to abide but this only applies to civilized nations that have common values and similar Law of War concepts.” What exactly do you mean by “only” to nations with common values?

    and in regards to being the leader, I always hear these horror stories of young soldiers who do what they want on deployment. Just last week I heard someone talking about being in OIF 1. They described it as being “like the wild west” and even went so far as to say “we did what we wanted.” Now this could have been this person just tryingto show off, but how do you keep track of all of your subordinates and make sure while on deployment that they do not get themselves in trouble or you in trouble.

      • MAJ Rudy
      • November 12th, 2009

      What we meant by only nations with common values is that many of our natiosn enemies operate outside or in between nation states (terriorists). These enemies will not and do not follow the same code of conduct of laws of armed conflict. This however does not allow you to deviate from these rules and laws.
      As far as the stories, remeber that ROE is not set in stone. This can be changed as a conflict develops. What was a hostile intent in 2004 is not a hostile intent now.

        • MAJ Cowles
        • November 12th, 2009

        ROE is referenced in the Joint community as:

        “In peace operations . . . ROE are directives that delineate the circumstances and limitations under which U.S. forces initiate and/or continue engagement with belligerent forces”

        ROE is a living document or set of policies. ROE changed from the initial invasion into Iraq through the multiple iterations. Escalation of Force is part of that ROE and this is one of the major aspects that changed based on region and timelines. An example of this is the use of Green lasers as a deterrent later in the OIF iterations.

    • Dragon
    • November 11th, 2009

    “military necessity, distinction and proportionality” We have read and disscussed the necessity and proportionality, can you elaborate on distinction? My assumption would be distinction between friend/enemy or civilian/enemy.

      • MAJ Rudy
      • November 12th, 2009

      Distinction pertains to what is a miltary target and a noncombatant. The idea is to only engage legitimite miltary targets. As a leader, this important to understand and apply this along with necessity and proportionality. It is also important to remember that many times the enemy is not in uniform as we would understand it. Failure to apply this aspect can quickly cause national level implications and effects.

    • shake and bake
    • November 12th, 2009

    Sirs,
    How detailed does an ROE card get? You spoke of a small difference in action between Ramadi and Baghdad. Will most actions from the enemy force have a specific ROE designation?

      • MAJ Rudy
      • November 13th, 2009

      ROE cards are, at least from my experiences, somewhat vague. They are meant to be that way because they cannont cover every scenario that you will encounter. The enemy actions are not specified by the ROE. Depending on where you are at though your commander will normally give an ROE brief prior to going outside the wire.

    • Smooth
    • November 12th, 2009

    Sir,
    As far as the differences in ROE in different areas, is there an overall ROE for the entire theater that each commander will base their unit’s ROE on, or is it up to each commander to develop their own ROE based on their situation?

      • MAJ Rudy
      • November 13th, 2009

      ROE is normally for combat zone, like Iraq. However, what is different is how the commanders interpret these rules because of the situation and techniques used by the enemy. Also understand when I talk of commanders interpretation, this is normally at say a division level. For example, a person out at night might not be considered a ROE violation and rightly so. However, I had an incident where a local person was out at 2 am and acting suspiciously from a location where we knew an IED had been triggered before at the same time we were conducting offensive operations. Based on these surrounding circumstances I and the chain of command above me determined that there was hostile intent and therefore there was no ROE violation.

    • Johnny B. Green
    • November 12th, 2009

    Sir,

    Other than ROE cards, are there other ways that you can educate your people on the ROE?

      • MAJ Rudy
      • November 13th, 2009

      If a deployment is upcoming, the JAG office or your commander should be able to provide you the ROE. My Soldiers often used scenario playing (which are often used for training) as a way of putting each other into situations where a call is needed. They would often quiz each other with may their platoon leader present to determine what passed the test and what did not.

      • MAJ Cowles
      • November 16th, 2009

      As deployments approach each unit is required to perform a Mission Rehearsal Exercise NLT 90 days prior to deployment. All of the Combat Training Centers (CTC) such as NTC in Fort Irwin or JRTC in Fort Polk have scenarios that are catered to events that would challenge your unit’s use of ROE. At most of these training centers as well, you will find the smart cards that you refer to and new and different ways of remembering your operating procedures.

    • warriorpoet
    • November 12th, 2009

    “The rules of engagement or their interpretation by the senior commanders is not always unilateral across theaters or even geographic barriers.”
    When we get the ROE for our theater will we be briefed then have to teach it to our platoon?

    Also would we be getting a card or a booklet of these rules?

      • MAJ Rudy
      • November 13th, 2009

      Yes, you will get something that typically states these ROE rules. Every time I have deployed also there has been a brief given going into detail about the ROE specific to that area. Even though the JAG officers assist, this is the ROE of the commander. SO as a company commander I briefed my company on the ROE. Understandably when there was a question on the ground, I tried to make the call because I was ultimately responsible for the actions of my unit and soldiers. If I was not on the ground, I would try and ask questions by radio to clarify the situation not only for me but also the guys on the ground before I gave guidance. By asking some questions normally the situation became clearer to all involved.

    • halo33
    • November 12th, 2009

    Sir,
    Have you ever encountered a violation of an ROE on the battlefield that involved a friend and if so how did you report it and did you maintain that friendship?

      • MAJ Rudy
      • November 13th, 2009

      Times have changed in that what is done now is different from when I left two and a half years ago. The second deployment was also different from the first which was 18 months after the first. When I was there if a person was shot and wounded or shot and killed a 15-6 investigation was initiated. This sometimes scared soldiers but it was meant as a way of prooving no wrong doing. My compnay had numerous 15-6’s initiated but no one was ever found to be guilty of any wrong doing. As a commander, I tried to make it as clear cut as possible for the Soldiers on the ground. This included ensuring they had the proper equipment like hand held flares to use to be able to conduct escalation of force measures when in doubt. If I were to have a violation, I as the commander could not worry about the personal relationships.
      I did hear of friends conducting Law Of Armed Conflict violations but those were reported and justice served accordingly. As an officer, you must maintain your integrity which sometimes requires the hard right over the easy wrong.

    • Supercaliburfragbalistic
    • November 16th, 2009

    Has the ROE ever changed in theatre? And if so how quickly were the updates/changes put out?

    • MAJ Cowles
    • November 17th, 2009

    ROE very rarely changes wholesale. My first deployment, OIF 1 and my second deployment, OIF 5 had slightly different ROE guidelines. As MAJ Rudy discussed, ROE’s interpretation changes more often than ROE itself. BLUF, changes to ROE is in theater happen but not often. Reasonable changes occur only after an incident that causes it to do so.

    Upon updates and/or changes to ROE, they are published immediately but keep in mind, the flow of information and again the new interpretation of those updated ROE guidelines will rule how fast they get implemented.

    • Sigfried
    • November 26th, 2009

    I understand there are JAG officers around units here, are they also deployed with units so that if there is a question we may ask one of them? Also, I know most ROE cards are for Iraq and Afghanistan, but are there also ROE cards for North Korea since it is not technically ‘peaceful’ there?
    Another thing, I know it is our duty to know our soldiers and hopefully catch them before they snap out in the field. Out of experience, what are the main key signs that a soldier is taking on too much and may start being able to rationalize clearly?

    • Ahhhhh!!!
    • November 29th, 2009

    How often do you think the average combat arms LT comes to a situation where they must make a decision that will be able to be interpreted in multiple ways? (a decision that some would say it was within the ROE, some would say that it wasn’t)

    • CDT Coco
    • December 3rd, 2009

    It seems like the media can really put a spin on activities that occur in Iraq when they are embedded with combat units. Why does our military allow the media to be in the front lines as much as they are? I am not talking about covering up anything but I am concerned with protecting our progress there. I worry about being in a unit with an embedded media crew and having them put a spin on something that might happen in my unit even though I know the right thing occured. The media rarely, if ever, publish retractions of misinformation.

    • Pork Soda
    • December 3rd, 2009

    Sirs,
    How often is the ROE for an AO updated. Is it easy to make amendments as the enemy tactics change?

    • Jack
    • December 3rd, 2009

    Sir,
    How often does the civilian population and/or the enemy know of our ROE? If it is, how often do they use this to their advantage?

    • Blazer
    • December 3rd, 2009

    Is the ROE law? Can you change them based on events if you can defend them after?

    • армейский кадет
    • December 4th, 2009

    “to abide but this only applies to civilized nations that have common values and similar Law of War concepts.”

    Could you give some examples of some nations where Law of War wouldn’t abide by? Also, if say your in a failed state, the government doesn’t have control, does this still apply?

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