United States of America
Practice Relating to Rule 7. The Principle of Distinction between Civilian Objects and Military Objectives
Section B. Attacks against military objectives
The US Air Force Pamphlet (1976) explains:
The requirement that attacks be limited to military objectives results from several requirements of international law. The mass annihilation of enemy people is neither humane, permissible, nor militarily necessary. The Hague Regulations prohibit destruction or seizure of enemy property “unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.” Destruction as an end in itself is a violation of international law, and there must be some reasonable connection between the destruction of property and the overcoming of enemy military forces. Various other prohibitions and the Hague Regulations and Hague Convention IX further support the requirement that attacks be directed only at military objectives.
The US Rules of Engagement for Operation Desert Storm (1991) provides: “Attack only military targets.”
The US Naval Handbook (1995) provides: “Only military objectives may be attacked.”
The US Naval Handbook (2007) states: “Only military objectives may be attacked.”
The Handbook also states:
An object that meets the definition of a military objective may be attacked even if the object, such as an electric power plant, also serves civilian functions, subject to the requirement to avoid excessive incidental injury and collateral damage.
In 1950, the US Secretary of State stated: “The air activity of the United Nations forces in Korea has been, and is, directed solely at military targets of the invader.”
At a news briefing in December 1966, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs stated, with reference to inquiries concerning reported incidents resulting from bombing in the vicinity of Hanoi on 13 and 14 December 1966: “The only targets struck by U.S. aircraft were military ones, well outside the city proper.”
In December 1966, in reply to an inquiry from a member of the US House of Representatives asking for a restatement of US policy on targeting in North Vietnam, a US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense wrote: “United States policy is to target military targets only. There has been no deviation from this policy.”
At the CDDH, the United States stated that the first sentence of Article 47(2) of the draft Additional Protocol I (now Article 52(2)) “prohibits only such attacks as may be directed against non-military objectives. It does not deal with the question of collateral damage caused by attacks directed against military objectives.”
In 1991, in a report submitted to the UN Security Council on operations in the Gulf War, the United States stated: “The military actions initiated by the United States and other States co-operating with the Government of Kuwait … are directed strictly at military and strategic targets.”
In 1991, in a diplomatic note to Iraq concerning operations in the Gulf War, the United States asserted: “The United States and other coalition forces are only attacking targets of military value in Iraq.”
In 1992, in its final report to Congress on the conduct of the Gulf War, the US Department of Defense stated that Article 48 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I “is generally regarded as a codification of the customary practice of nations, and therefore binding on all”.
The report further stated: “CINCCENT [Commander-in-Chief, Central Command] conducted a theater campaign directed solely at military targets.”