- Armed conflict — Military necessity — Principle of distinction — Customary international law
This chapter studies the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) which regulate methods of warfare. The so-called ‘Hague Law’, which regulates the use of means and methods of warfare so as to mitigate—as much as possible—the ‘calamities of war’, is the oldest branch of IHL. Its basic tenet can be summarized in three fundamental maxims. The first maxim expresses the basic principle of military necessity, which limits the permissibility of means and methods of warfare to what is actually required for the achievement of a legitimate military purpose. The second maxim provides the basis for the prohibition of means and methods of warfare that are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering to combatants. The third maxim concerns the principle of distinction, which prohibits not only direct attacks against civilians and the civilian population, but also indiscriminate means and methods of warfare. Both the prohibition of unnecessary suffering and the principle of distinction are regarded as ‘cardinal principles’ of IHL by the International Court of Justice and, in this basic form, are universally accepted as part of customary international law. The chapter then outlines the current state of the law regulating methods of warfare.
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