Law of Armed Conflict, with emphasis on maritime operations



Mål og innhald

The Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) applies between parties to an armed conflict, be it an international armed conflict or non-international armed conflict (sometimes called an internal armed conflict). The subject of LOAC is therefore not when or if parties to a conflict have the right to resort to armed force - but the rules applicable between them when they do.

The use of armed force, unfortunately, remain characteristic for the international society. Whether the world has become more peaceful - typically measured in the number of people who lose their lives in armed conflicts - is disputed. But while the number of lives lost may be diminishing, there is no doubt that the number of armed conflicts is on the rise. Even a small country like Norway is active in over ten military operations abroad, and has since the second world war contributed to over 100 operations in more than 40 countries.

For the international community, it therefore remains a central question to what extent and in which manner armed force may be utilized once a conflict has escalated to the level of an armed conflict. And while much of the law rests on legal developments that took place in the aftermath of the second world war, technical and cultural development did not cease.

Technically the law is ever challenged by new methods of warfare. To mention but some examples:

  • the use of over-the-horizon weapons have greatly expanded
  • the use of drone technology has profoundly changed the nature of the battlefield
  • the battlefield has been significantly extended by the addition of a cyber dimension
  • the battlefield may again be changed by the introduction of artificial intelligence into man-controlled, or entirely self-controlled, weapon systems

Culturally, international law has seen a significant influence of human rights law affecting all fields - of course also LOAC. International criminal law has seen significant developments, aimed among others at underpinning and strengthening LOAC. Significant attempts have also been made at preserving human life and limit suffering, i.e. in the adoption of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction as well as the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Both conventions arguably rest on a changed view of the value of human life measured against military benefits. Both conventions also demonstrate the freedom States pursue under LOAC, non-signatories to both including some of the major actors on the international stage, and other States considering a withdrawal in order to enhance military capacity.

The Law of Armed Conflict exists in this constantly developing interplay, at all times central to the State. And when applicable, LOAC concerns a State's most fundamental interest; its survival. As such LOAC is therefore also one of the most interesting fields in which to study international law, for no field attempts more directly to regulate the core interests of the State and to balance two more competing interests; to safeguard the life and health of humans while in no way impeding military efficiency.

The Law of Armed Conflict is built around four principles: (i) Distinction between military and civilian targets, (ii) Proportionality, (iii) Military necessity and (iv) Limitations. The course will focus on these basic principles in depth. The course will further focus on the interplay between LOAC and general human rights obligations.

As LOAC applies in situations where life is routinely taken, and suffering routinely caused, LOAC is also fraught with ethical dilemmas. The role of ethics in the determination of the law, as well as its implications for professionals working in the field of LOAC, must thus be addressed and discussed.

For its theatre of operations, the course will focus on the oft less discussed maritime theatre. Being the main source of force projection for non-neighbouring States as well as playing a vital role in resupply, allied support and early threat detection as well as self-defence, the oceanic space is of great importance in large-scale conflicts.

In addressing these issues, the course is practically focused, asking students to take on the role as Legal Advisers to military commanders. A role specifically provided for in Additional protocol I article 82. Students will be presented with concrete circumstances, and asked to provide legal advice. The candidates will be asked to draw on relevant experience both to ground the course in practicable questions, to further understanding and to increase learning both for the sharing candidate and for the group.



After successfully completing the course, students will have a general knowledge of:

  • The method and sources of international law, with particular emphasis on questions and differences that arise in LOAC
  • The application of Human Rights Law in situations that are also covered by LOAC
  • The rules concerning protected persons and objects

After successfully completing the course, students will have a good knowledge of:

  • The four central principles of LOAC, and especially their application in maritime operations
  • The meaning and importance of status as a combatant, non-combatant and civilians
  • The limitations LOAC presents on means and methods of armed conflict, especially as these apply to operations conducted at or from the sea
  • The legal status, as well as rights and obligations that concern neutrals
  • Special questions that arise in maritime operations covered by LOAC, like questions of blockade and the establishment of security/exclusion zones
  • Skills

    After completing the course, the students should be able to independently analyse, discuss, and take a stand on issues that fall under LOAC.

    This entails that students must be able to:

  • identify, systematize and formulate LOAC issues based on comprehensive and complex fact
  • find and systematize relevant sources of law and carry out initial legal analysis of LOAC questions
  • identify ethical impacts on the determination of law, particularly in the field of study
  • discuss questions of legal policy that arise in the context of LOAC in a thorough and balanced manner

The student must also be able to convey and evaluate legal analyses and points of view in the LOAC context through:

  • systematically prepared written analyses
  • orally present legal argumentation
  • to comment on and evaluate other students' analyses and to receive and make use of such comments
  • to work with others in groups to analyse questions of LOAC

General competence

After completion of the course, students shall:

  • have an understanding of LOAC as a separate discipline of international law
  • have insight in LOAC's place in international law and how it works in conjunction with, and is affected by, other disciplines of international law (like international human rights law and international criminal law), as well as how it works in conjunction with national law
  • be able to see the special challenges that arise in an area of law where sources are fragmented and to some degree dated

Studiepoeng, omfang


Studienivå (studiesyklus)





Faculty of Law, University of Bergen
Krav til forkunnskapar
The same as in other courses that are part of the Executive Master's Programme in Operative Management and Exercise of Authority.
Tilrådde forkunnskapar
Not relevant.
Students may not earn ECTS credits for both JUS296-2-A and JUR661
Krav til studierett
Acceptance to JUR661
Arbeids- og undervisningsformer

The course is taught in correlation with JUS296-2-A. It is taught through a blended learning environment, combining the use of digital modules with seminar modules. The digital modules discuss the theoretical underpinnings of the subject and can facilitate self-study. In the physical modules, the theory is transferred to practical questions. Students will be invited (and required) to actively participate in knowledge sharing and production.

The course requires extensive self-study.

Obligatorisk undervisningsaktivitet
The course has a mandatory group assignment that is held in collaboration with JUS296-2-A. The group assignment will ensure interchange of ideas between candidates, across disciplines and cultures. It also helps support the learning goals of oral and written presentation of knowledge, and collaboration. The mandatory assignment is assessed pass/non-pass.
The subject has an oral exam. Students will 2 days prior to the exam be given access to a factual description. Based on this the students are to prepare legal advice for a commander. In the exam, of approx. 25 min, the students will be asked to present their legal advice, and receive questions on this. If deemed necessary, the candidates may also be questioned on other parts of the course.
A to E for pass and F for failed.
The reading list will be ready before 1 July
According to administrative routines for evaluating courses at the Faculty of Law.
Hjelpemiddel til eksamen
Not relevant.
The Faculty of Law has the administrative responsibility for the study programme. A Programme Board, with representatives from the parties participating in the programme, is responsible for the coordination and operation of the programme, in accordance with the guidelines for inter-faculty study programmes in UiB's Quality System for Education.
Professor Knut Einar Skodvin (
Administrativt ansvarleg
The Faculty of Law¿s section for students and academic affairs (Studieseksjonen) is responsible for administering the programme.