On 8 August 2019, the Department of Defense (DoD) published Army Field Manual (FM) 6-27/Marine Corps Tactical Publication 11-10C, The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Land Warfare (Handbook), replacing FM 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare (1956). As judge advocates, we have an obligation to provide relevant, understandable, and accessible tools for commanders, Soldiers, and practitioners. This Handbook provides an invaluable tool for Army and Marine Corps commanders and their judge advocates to guide land forces in conducting disciplined military training and operations in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC). The Handbook replaces the outdated FM 27-10, which lacked necessary context and often merely recited a particular rule instead of giving explanation. Field Manual 6-27 is a user-friendly handbook written for commanders and judge advocates in a way that is easily understood and applied across the spectrum of conflict. As our Army and Marine Corps transition from counterterrorism to peer-to-peer or near-peer conflicts, commanders and individual Soldiers and Marines must understand and apply the LOAC to be effective on the battlefield of the future.
Field Manual 27-10 had not been updated in over sixty years, was narrowly scoped (LOAC-focused), and did not fully contemplate or reflect the modern Army experience anymore. The Handbook, however, captures the intervening highlights, including adoption of the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions and other instruments as well as lessons learned over decades of military operations, which add relevancy and legitimacy for today’s commanders and warfighters.
One complaint often heard about FM 27-10 is that it merely recited the rule. The Handbook provides an explanation of and guidance for each of the various rules and principles—in the right context. Drawing from treaties to which the United States is a party, customary international law (CIL), the DoD Law of War Manual, and other references, the Handbook describes long-standing U.S. military practice in applying the LOAC across the spectrum of operations. It should prove a valuable tool in the development of complementary doctrine, tactics, techniques, procedures, and training in the years to come.
In addition, the Handbook is more “user-friendly.” Commanders cannot and should not have to read a statute or wordy legal treatise to make decisions on the battlefield. Field Manual 6-27 is concise, clear, and user-friendly for field application and non-practitioner utilization. It is written specifically for commanders, judge advocates, and individual Soldiers and Marines, from team leader on up, who will need to understand and apply the LOAC principles. Written to be easily understood by commanders and individual Soldiers and Marines, this clarity will support increased and common understanding, and informed compliance with the LOAC.
Finally, commanders and individual Soldiers and Marines must understand the LOAC to be effective in the diffused battlefield of the future. In a high-intensity conflict, legal advisors will not be with every decision maker. Field Manual 6-27 is geared to empower those decision makers to understand and apply the LOAC effectively in dynamic, complex environments. It also places the responsibility on commanders to make the LOAC compliance part of their planning and training process—it is in those early stages of planning where legal advisors and leaders have the greatest impact on maximizing LOAC compliance while also accomplishing the mission. Importantly, if our commanders, judge advocates, and individual warfighters are forced to operate in an analog fight, FM 6-27, at only 200 pages, is the perfect portable and comprehensive resource.
Field Manual 6-27 is the culmination of over twenty years of effort by countless attorneys, paralegals, commanders, and Soldiers. The Handbook is not intended to compete with or replace the DoD Law of War Manual. Each publication aims for a different audience. The Handbook incorporates the generational changes institutionalized over the last sixty years and more accurately represents the complexities of current and future battlefields. It serves significantly as one more very valuable tool for our commanders, Soldiers, and practitioners. TAL