Practice Relating to Rule 45. Causing Serious Damage to the Natural Environment
Section B. Environmental modification techniques
Israel’s Manual on the Laws of War (1998) states:
Besides conventional and non-conventional arms, there is another category of arms – those that have an impact on the natural environment. The 1970’s saw a growing deep awareness for environmental protection, rousing in its wake an aversion to the United States’ conduct during the Vietnam War, in which it destroyed forests and crops by chemical means (more than 54% of the forests in South Vietnam were destroyed), and even tested means for altering the weather in Indochina (bringing down rain so as to create mud and flooding in North Vietnam). In 1977 a convention was signed banning the use of environment-modifying technologies for war purposes, if such use has “large-scale, long-term or severe effects on another country that is a party to the Convention”. The Convention (which Israel has not signed) defines the modification of the natural environment as “any change – through the intervention of natural processes – to the dynamics, composition or structure of the Earth”.
The Gulf War:
During the Gulf War, Iraq flagrantly violated the Convention on the prohibition against modifying the environment during the military occupation of Kuwait (both countries signed the convention). Immediately following the outbreak of hostilities in the Gulf War, the Iraqis opened Kuwait’s marine oil pipes, flooding the Persian Gulf with oil slicks. In addition, the Iraqi army set ablaze more than 700 oil wells when retreating. The resulting damage to the natural environment and the death of thousands of cormorants in oil puddles (without giving Iraq any military advantage whatsoever) was irreparable.
Israel’s Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) states:
Damage to the environment. An additional convention deals with weapons that affect the natural environment. During the 1970s, consciousness of the environment increased in the world resulting in criticism of the Vietnam War, in the course of which the United States destroyed forests and crops by means of chemical weapons (more than 54% of the forests in South Vietnam were destroyed) and it even performed experiments to attempt to change the weather in the Indo-China area (rainfall to create mud and flooding in north Vietnam). In 1977, a convention was signed prohibiting the use of technologies for altering the natural environment for the purpose of warfare, should this use have “extensive, long-term or serious effects on another member state”.
This convention, to which Israel is not a signatory, defines change to the natural environment as “interference in the dynamic processes of nature, the composition or structure of the Earth”. The Convention does not mention specific phenomena, but it speaks of phenomena such as causing earthquakes, the creation of tsunamis, disrupting the ecological balance and causing storms and changes to the condition of the ozone layer and the ionosphere.
The First Gulf War
In the course of the military conquest of Kuwait during the Gulf War (1991), Iraq blatantly breached the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or any other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (both countries are the signatories to the Convention). Immediately after the outbreak of hostilities in the Gulf War, the Iraqis opened Kuwait’s marine oil pipelines and covered the Persian Gulf with oil slicks. In addition, the Iraqi army set fire to more than 700 oil wells during its retreat. The damage caused to the natural environment was irreparable, and thousands of cormorants were killed by the pools of oil. Setting fire to the oil brought no military advantage to Iraq, of course.
The Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) is a second edition of the Manual on the Laws of War (1998).