Practice Relating to Rule 45. Causing Serious Damage to the Natural Environment
Section A. Widespread, long-term and severe damage
The Military Manual (1993) of the Netherlands states: “It is prohibited to employ methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.”
The manual explains that the part of the 1977 Additional Protocol I concerning the general protection of the civilian population against the effects of hostilities repeats this prohibition (in Article 55) with the proviso that “the damage to the natural environment has to be such that the health or the survival of the civilian population is endangered”.
The Military Handbook (1995) of the Netherlands states: “Attention must be paid to the protection of the natural environment against widespread, long-term and severe damage.”
The Military Manual (2005) of the Netherlands states:
Section 13 - Methods or means which alter the natural environment
0464. AP I [1977 Additional Protocol I] contains a prohibition of the employment of methods or means of warfare which are intended or expected to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment and thus endanger the health or chances of survival of the civilian population. In other words, the concern here is for environmental damage which meets all the conditions of a prohibited act. In this case the environment is a “victim” of a given weapon or method (though only if the health or chances of survival of the population are impaired).
During the 1974–1977 Diplomatic Conference which established the Additional Protocols, attention was paid to the large-scale deforestation during the war in Viet Nam (in the 1960s and 70s). However, the prohibition is couched in vaguer terms. Thus the Conference took the adjective “long-term” to mean a few decades. The damage caused to the environment during the 1990–91 Gulf War does not appear to fall within the scope of this definition. With hindsight, the damage caused by burning and leaking oil wells turned out less than expected, although approximately 100 million tonnes of oil leaked into the sea.
In its chapter on peace operations, the manual states that the use of methods and means which “cause widespread, long-term and serious damage to the natural environment, or are expected to do so,” must be avoided.
Under the International Crimes Act (2003) of the Netherlands, “intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such an attack will cause … widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated” is a crime, when committed in an international armed conflict.