United States of America
Practice Relating to Rule 54. Attacks against Objects Indispensable to the Survival of the Civilian Population
Section A. Attacks against objects
The US Naval Handbook (1995) prohibits the “intentional destruction of food, crops, livestock, drinking water and other objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, for the specific purpose of denying the civilian population of their use”.
The Annotated Supplement to the US Naval Handbook (1997) provides that the rule prohibiting the intentional destruction of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population for the specific purpose of denying the civilian population of their use is a “customary rule … accepted by the United States … and is codified in [the 1977 Additional Protocol I], art. 54(2)”.
The US Naval Handbook (2007) states: “The intentional destruction of food, crops, livestock, drinking water, and other objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, for the specific purpose of denying the civilian population of their use, is prohibited.”
In 2008, in the Agent Orange case, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the dismissal of the case by the District Court, finding that the Plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate a violation of international law. In its judgment, the Court of Appeals stated:
The sources of international law relied on by Plaintiffs do not support a universally-accepted norm prohibiting the wartime use of Agent Orange that is defined with the degree of specificity required by Sosa Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain
, 542 U.S. 692 (2004)]. Although the herbicide campaign may have been controversial, the record before us supports the conclusion that Agent Orange was used as a defoliant and not as a poison designed for or targeting human populations. Inasmuch as Agent Orange was intended for defoliation and for destruction of crops only, its use did not violate the international norms relied upon here, since those norms would not necessarily prohibit the deployment of materials that are only secondarily, and not intentionally, harmful to humans.
During the Korean War, the Commanding General of the US Far East Air Force refused to bomb dams in North Korea since he was “concerned over the political impact of destroying food crops” which would have resulted from such attacks.