Related Rule
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 17. Choice of Means and Methods of Warfare
The UK LOAC Pamphlet (1981) states: “In the choice of weapons or methods of combat, care must be taken to avoid incidental loss or damage to civilians or civilian objects.” 
United Kingdom, The Law of Armed Conflict, D/DAT/13/35/66, Army Code 71130 (Revised 1981), Ministry of Defence, prepared under the Direction of The Chief of the General Staff, 1981, Section 4, p. 13, § 4(b).
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states: “There is the obligation to select the means (that is, weapons) or methods of attack (that is, tactics) which will cause the least incidental damage commensurate with military success.” 
United Kingdom, The Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict, Ministry of Defence, 1 July 2004, § 5.32.4.
The manual further states:
With respect to attacks, the following precautions shall be taken:
(1) those who plan or decide upon an attack shall:
(b) take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. 
United Kingdom, The Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict, Ministry of Defence, 1 July 2004, § 5.32; see also 13.32 (maritime warfare).
In 1991, in a report submitted to the UN Security Council on operations in the Gulf War, the United Kingdom stated: “Attacks have been directed exclusively at military objectives, using precision weapons wherever possible, particularly in areas where there may be civilians near the targets.” 
United Kingdom, Letter dated 13 February 1991 to the President of the UN Security Council, UN Doc. S/22218, 13 February 1991, p. 1.
In 1991, during a debate in the UN Security Council on the Gulf War, the United Kingdom stated that all targets were carefully selected and that precision weapons were used wherever possible. 
United Kingdom, Statement before the UN Security Council, UN Doc. S/PV.2977, 16 February 1991.
In 2003, during a debate in the House of Commons, the UK Secretary of State for Defence made a statement and replied to questions by Members:
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about military operations to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.
I would like to draw the attention of the House to two particular points. First, that coalition forces will take every possible care to minimise civilian casualties or damage to civilian infrastructure. The coalition will use modern weapons, which are more accurate than ever, but we can never unfortunately exclude the possibility of civilian casualties, tragic though those always are. However, people should treat with caution Iraq's claims of civilian casualties. The Iraqi people are not our enemies, and we are determined to do all we can to help them build the better future that they deserve.
Secondly, I caution the House against suggestions that this campaign will be over in a very short time …
Laura Moffatt (Crawley): My right hon. Friend has outlined the progress in this campaign. We must win the campaign and not allow our armed forces to go into conflict without the correct weaponry to protect them. Could he say something about the more controversial weapons that may need to be used, such as depleted uranium heads on weapons and cluster bombs, for our constituents who may have concerns about them?
Mr. Hoon: I emphasise that a range of weapons will have to be used to prosecute this campaign successfully and achieve the successful result that my hon. Friend rightly advocates. I will not allow our forces to be prevented from using those lawful weapons that are most suitable for achieving those tasks. I assure her equally that those weapons are used only after the most careful consideration. Depleted uranium and cluster bombs have a particular military purpose. If that purpose is necessary, they will be used; if it is not, they will not be used.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): The Secretary of State has said that he wants civilian casualties to be minimised and yet, when my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) asked about cluster bombs, he would not rule out their use. Does he not see the contradiction between his two statements? The record of the use of cluster bombs is that they do, by their very nature, cause civilian casualties. In the first Gulf war, the United States used something like 60,000 cluster bombs, containing up to 20 million bomblets, in Iraq and Kuwait. Does the Secretary of State really believe that a repetition of that sort of behaviour will not cause civilian casualties?
Mr. Hoon: I made it clear that those particular weapons have a particular purpose. They will be used to achieve that purpose if it is necessary. Their use will be limited to those circumstances. I assure my hon. Friend that they are not used in a random way; but I would be failing in my duties as Secretary of State for Defence if I did not allow our armed forces to use the most appropriate weapons to deal with the threats against them. 
United Kingdom, House of Commons, Statements by the Secretary of State for Defence, Hansard, 20 March 2003, Vol. 401, Debates, cols. 1087, 1091 and 1093.
In 2003, during a debate in the House of Commons, the UK Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Hoon, replied to a question by a Member:
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the World Service is reporting that cluster bombs are being used in the area around Basra? I am sure that he is aware, as I am, of the long-term consequences for the civilian population of post-war Iraq of unexploded bomblets. Will he make it clear to his American counterpart, when they discuss Iraq, that we strongly disapprove of the use of anti-personnel land mines?
Mr. Hoon: I have made it clear when dealing with such questions on previous occasions that it is necessary to allow our forces to use the most effective and appropriate weapons against the threats that they perceive. My hon. Friend may or may not be aware that 17 tanks sought to attack British forces yesterday. Every one of those tanks was destroyed, fortunately without allied losses. I would not be confident in saying to our forces that they could not use a particular weapon that protected them against those kinds of attack – I should not be doing my job properly. As I have indicated to my hon. Friend and others on previous occasions, we look carefully at the use of weapons, and use particular weapons only when it is absolutely appropriate to do so. 
United Kingdom, House of Commons, Statement by the Secretary of State for Defence, Hansard, 26 March 2003, Vol. 402, Debates, col. 300.
In 2003, during a debate in the House of Commons, the UK Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Ministry of Defence, replied to questions by a Member:
Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): If he will make a statement on use of cluster bombs by the UK.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The cluster bomb is a legal weapon that fulfils a legitimate military role that cannot be effectively performed by other means. We reserve the right to use the most suitable lawful weapon available in the proportionate manner required by international law.
Norman Lamb: I thank the Minister for that answer, but may I ask him to confirm the extent of the use of cluster munitions, including ground-launch munitions, in Iraq? Given the absolute importance of protecting the civilian population from the deadly aftermath of the use of those weapons, can the Minister confirm that he will implement the proposals of Landmine Action and others concerning the user’s paying for the clear-up of the aftermath of the use of such weapons and providing full information to the civilian population so as to avoid any risk to that population?
Mr. Ingram: There is another imperative in the use of weapons, which is of course to try to minimise casualties among our own troops. That is the purpose of having the range of ammunition and equipment that is available to our troops in the Gulf. I would hope that the hon. Gentleman shares that objective, including the use of cluster bombs.
We have a very good record on clear-up, and we will always seek to proceed on that basis. Wherever we have been involved in conflicts involving the use of weapons, we have sought to clear up after ourselves. 
United Kingdom, House of Commons, Statements by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Ministry of Defence, Hansard, 31 March 2003, Vol. 402, Debates, col. 657.
In 2003, in reply to a written question in the House of Commons, the UK Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Ministry of Defence, wrote:
We have no means of ascertaining the numbers of military or civilian lives lost during the conflict in Iraq to date, although we make every effort to keep any impact upon the Iraqi civilian population to an absolute minimum. All our military planning is conducted in full accordance with our obligations under international law to employ the minimum necessary use of force to achieve military effect, and to avoid injury to non-combatants or civilian infrastructure. Practically, this is achieved through a combination of an extremely careful targeting process and highly accurate precision guided weapons. 
United Kingdom, House of Commons, Written answer by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Ministry of Defence, Hansard, 2 April 2003, Vol. 402, Written Answers, col. 738W.
In 2003, during a debate in the House of Commons, the UK Secretary of State for Defence made a statement and replied to questions by Members:
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a further statement about military action in Iraq and the efforts that we are making to help the Iraqi people to rebuild their country.
Throughout this campaign, the coalition has sought to use minimum force to achieve our military objectives. We have never sought to inflict unnecessary suffering on Iraqi civilians, or, indeed, on members of the Iraqi armed forces. We have consistently encouraged members of the Iraqi armed forces to end their increasingly futile resistance and return to their homes and families …
We took great care in the planning of recent operations in Basra: the aim was to remove remnants of the regime while minimising the risk to civilians and to our armed forces …
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : The Secretary of State referred to the use of minimum force and the need to minimise Iraqi civilian casualties. Does not the continued use of cluster bombs make that more difficult, and in due course will it not make the huge task of reconstruction much more difficult and dangerous?
Mr. Hoon: As I have said on previous occasions when that issue has arisen, the use of all weapons involves striking a balance. All weapons are capable of damaging the civilian population as well as those against whom they are targeted. It is necessary to strike a balance between not only the risk to civilians, but equally the protection of coalition forces. In relation to the use of cluster bombs, I am confident that the right balance has been struck.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): If we do indeed owe a duty of care to the Iraqi people, how is it possible that we can still contemplate the use of cluster bombs, as it is well known that the greatest number of deaths and injuries are experienced by civilians from the hundreds of unexploded bomblets that lie around on the ground? What steps are being taken to ensure that civilians may not enter the areas where those bombs have been used before the bomblets can be removed or exploded?
Mr. Hoon: I have dealt with the general question on a number of occasions, so I will not repeat that again, but, on the specific point, careful note has been taken of where and when cluster bombs have been used and, as I have indicated to the House before, the people who most often risk their lives in dealing with the small failure rate of those weapons are members of Britain’s armed forces. 
United Kingdom, House of Commons, Statements by the Secretary of State for Defence, Hansard, 7 April 2003, Vol. 403, Debates, cols. 21–33.
In 2003, in reply to a written question in the House of Commons asking whether he would “make it his policy not to use cluster bombs in urban or populated areas in Iraq”, the UK Secretary of State for Defence wrote:
Cluster bombs are only used strictly in accordance with international law. This includes the principles of distinction and proportionality as well as precautionary measures to be taken in planning and conducting an attack, as contained in the First Additional Protocol of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The targeting process takes account of these principles in matching the type of weapon used to the target to be attacked. There will be circumstances when it would be considered more appropriate to use other munitions than cluster bombs. These circumstances are more likely to arise in urban or populated areas as cluster bombs engage targets that cover an area. 
United Kingdom, House of Commons, Written answer by the Secretary of State for Defence, Hansard, 14 April 2003, Vol. 403, Written Answers, col. 571W.
In 2003, in reply to a written question in the House of Commons, the UK Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Ministry of Defence, wrote:
We take our obligations under International Law and the Laws of Armed Conflict to avoid collateral damage and excessive military casualties very seriously. Any loss of life, particularly civilian, is deeply regrettable, but in a military operation the size of Operation Telic it is also unavoidable. Through very strict rules of engagement, the use of precision munitions and the tactical methods employed to liberate Iraq’s major cities, we are satisfied that the coalition did everything possible to avoid unnecessary casualties. 
United Kingdom, House of Commons, Written answer by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Ministry of Defence, Hansard, 1 September 2003, Vol. 409, Written Answers, col. 905W.