The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

« Calling things by the wrong name adds to the affliction of the world. » Albert Camus.

Military Necessity

In times of conflict, military necessity is the notion used to justify the recourse to violence. Any violence or destruction that is not justified by military necessity is prohibited by the law of armed conflict. The use of armed force is legitimate only when attempting to attain specific military objectives, and then only as long as it stays within the limits of the principle of proportionality.

Conversely, this notion can serve to contest the use of armed force if it seems that the violence or destruction were:

  • unnecessary—the target or victims were not linked to a specific military objective;
  • disproportionate—the military advantage was not proportionate to the collateral damage to civilians;
  • indiscriminate—the attack did not distinguish between military objectives and civilian objects;
  • aimed at spreading terror among the civilian population.

AttacksMethods (and means) of warfareMilitary objectivesProportionalityProtected objects and propertyWar

For Additional Information: Dinstein, Yoram. The Conduct of Hostilities under the Law of International Armed Conflict . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Draper, G. I. A. D. “Military Necessity and Humanitarian Imperatives.” Military Law and Law of War Review (1973): 129–51.

Dworkin, Anthony. “Military Necessity and Due Process: The Place of Human Rights in the War on Terror.” In New Wars, New Laws? , edited by David Wippman and Matthew Evangelista, 53–73. Ardsley, NY: Transnational, 2004.

Henckaerts, Jean-Marie, and Louise Doswald-Beck, eds. Customary International Law . Vol. 1, The Rules . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, part 1.

ICTY. Final Report to the Prosecutor by the Committee Established to Review the NATO Bombing Campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia . 8 June 2000. Available at .

Jaworski, Eric. “Military Necessity and Civilian Immunity: Where Is the Balance?” In International Crime and Punishment, Selected Issues , vol. 2, edited by Sienho Yee, 87–127. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2004.

MacCoubrey, Hilaire. “The Nature of the Modern Doctrine in Military Necessity.” Military Law and Law of War Review (1991): 251–52.

Mulinen, Frederic de. Handbook on the Law of War for Armed Forces . Geneva: ICRC, 1989, esp. 82–84.

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