Laws of Aerial Warfare by Anshika Agrawal @Lexcliq

Meaning of Aerial Warfare

It is to be noted that the term air warfare is meant the military opearations conducted with the use of any type of flying machine in the air-space of the belligerents, with the actions of their air forces directed against ground targets or objectives at sea. Although Brussles Conference of 1874 had laid down a few rules regarding the aerial warfare, they were not adequate. Hague Convention of 1907 for the first time made certain rules of aerial warfare in a comprehensive way. The attack or bombardment, ‘by any means whatever’, of towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended was prohibited under Article 25. Further, bombardment was required to be made for military objectives. There were almost the only rules relating to aircraft in war existing at the out-break of the First World War which can be said as binding on the states. However, these rules were openly violated during the First World War. Perhaps, it was not possible for the aircrafts to distinguish between ‘defended’ and ‘undefended’ areas.

Rules of Aerial Warfare

In order to regulate the use of aircraft against forces and military objectives of the enemy, in 1922, a Conference was held in Washington, known as Washington Conference on the limitation of armaments. The conference was attended by many states including America, Great Britain, Italy and Japan. The Conference decided for the appointment of a Commission of Jurists with the task of proposing a Code of Air Warfare Rules. In 1923, the commission produced the proposed code of rules. Some of these rules are as follows-

a) Article 22- Aerial bombardment for the purpose of terrorizing the civilian population, of destroying or damaging private property not of military character, or of injuring non-combatant is prohibited.

b) Article 23- Aerial bombardment for the purpose of enforcing compliance with requisitions in kind or payment of contribution in money is prohibited.

c) Article 24- It provided that aerial bombardment is legitimate only when directed at a military objective, that is to say, an object of which the destruction or injury would constitute a distinct military advantage to the belligerent. The bombardment of cities, towns, villages, dwellings or buildings not in the immediate neighbourhood of the operations of land forces is prohibited. A belligerent state is liable to pay compensation for injuries to a person or to property caused by the violations by any of its officers or forces of the above provisions.

It is to be noted that the above rules were not ratified, and therefore, they were not binding on the parties. Nevertheless, they were of importance as an authoritative attempt to clarify and formulate rules of law governing the use of aircraft in war. They may also prove to be convenient starting-point for any future steps in this direction. During the Second World War, rules contained in the Code were openly violated. Aerial bombardment for the purpose of terrorizing the adversary and his civilian populations was a common affair.

For Example, Warsaw in 1939, Rotterdam in 1940 and Belgrade in 1941 were bombarded. There was also an unrestricted bombing of localities, cities and towns with the express intention of injuring non-combatants, their dwellings and property. Further, strategic bombing where a whole area, because of its importance of war effort of the enemy, became a target for almost complete devastation. It may be said that no multilateral treaty could be concluded for regulating the rules covering all the aspects of air warfare. It is mainly because, firstly, the distinction between combatants and non-combatants is difficult to maintain in modern war, and secondly, it is difficult to determine as to what constitutes a military objective. However, it is desirable in the interest of humanity and mankind that rules relating to aerial warfare be codified by the conclusion of a multilateral treaty.

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