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DOD Works With Partner Nations to Avoid Civilian Casualties During War > U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE > Defense Department News

Brittany Jordan



The United States works with partner nations to mitigate civilian casualties as much as possible during military operations, adhering to the Law of Armed Conflict, also known as International Humanitarian Law.

A panel of Defense Department experts on the topic spoke remotely at the American Society of International Law.

The American military’s strong commitment to minimizing civilian casualties to the maximum extent possible and adhering to international humanitarian law principles is enculturated and internalized at all levels of command and across the services, Air Force Maj. John Legg, assistant professor of law at the U.S. Air Force Academy, said.

At the educational level in all of the services, commanders are inculcated with the moral and legal obligation to mitigate civilian harm, he said.

Also, structures are in place in the military to mitigate civilian casualties, he said, adding that the department works closely with allies and partners to ensure these norms are followed. 

Foreign military sales are contingent on the partner nations’ respect for mitigating civilian casualties, Loren Voss, senior advisor for Civilian Harm Mitigation at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said.

Factors that determine whether or not an FMS transfer is approved include looking at how the weapons will impact regional stability, how the arms are intended to be used, how the transfer affects U.S. national security and foreign policy interests and how the recipient nations will mitigate any risk of civilian casualties, she said. 

The State Department’s Office of Regional Security Arms Transfers oversees this effort in cooperation with DSCA and the geographic combatant commands, as well as with congressional oversight, she said.

Retired Army Col. Randy Bagwell, senior director of International Services — U.S. Programs at the American Red Cross, said there are cultural differences among nations. Some cultures respect the rule of law more than others and compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict is much higher in those nations. Also, some nations lack the training and education necessary to reduce civilian harm.

Nicholas W. Mull, Civilian Harm Mitigation Program manager at the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies, said his organization promotes partner nations’ military and institutional awareness of the Law of Armed Conflict through education and advisory efforts, as well as plans to ensure shared normative values dedicated to the rule of law.

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Brittany Jordan is an award-winning journalist who reports on breaking news in the U.S. and globally for the Federal Inquirer. Prior to her position at the Federal Inquirer, she was a general assignment features reporter for Newsweek, where she wrote about technology, politics, government news and important global events around the world. Her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Toronto Star, Frederick News-Post, West Hawaii Today, the Miami Herald, and more. Brittany enjoys food, travel, photography, and hoarding notebooks and journals. Her goal is to do more longform features journalism, narrative writing and documentary work, and to one day write a successful novel and screenplay.

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