Law of Armed Conflict, with emphasis on maritime operations - Master

Postgraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content

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 if 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 7 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 resting 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 relation to the programme description for the five-year Master in Law programme, the course will

  • Help students build an understanding of how national law and national decision making is affected by international law
  • Help students gain a deeper understanding of how legal methodology may vary between different disciplines of law
  • Emphasize the role of lawyers also in conflict situations and put to the forefront the deep ethical considerations that affect the determination of the law and how these may explain different views of the law
  • Help students understand how the law is affected by the development of new technologies
  • Broaden the range of sources familiar to students
  • Sharpen their ability to make an independent, critical and ethical assessment of what the law on any matter is
  • Sharpen their ability to apply the law to fields which may not have been considered when central sources were created
  • Broaden their competence to cooperate with lawyers with a different cultural background
  • Broaden their ability to cooperate in interdisciplinary teams and benefit in their legal analysis from crossdisciplinary information

Learning Outcomes


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

  • Why States resort to armed conflict in their international relations
  • When international law permits the use of force
  • The historical development of LOAC
  • Different levels of conflict and the application of LOAC
  • The relationship between LOAC and International Criminal Law
  • The rights and duties of an occupying power

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

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


After completing the course, the student should be able to independently analyze, 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 independent legal analysis of LOAC issues in a thorough, comprehensive, critical and balanced way
  • reason out a professionally sound position through clarification of tensions between different types of arguments that are valid under international law
  • 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 analyzes and points of view in the LOAC context through

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

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 handle a field of law where sources are fragmented and to some degree dated

ECTS Credits


Level of Study

Master level

Semester of Instruction


Place of Instruction

Faculty of Law, University of Bergen
Required Previous Knowledge
Three years of law studies
Recommended Previous Knowledge

Good command of English language.

A basic understanding of international law is not required but will be helpful.

Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap

Combined with JUS296-2-A Law of Armed Conflict, with emphasis on maritime operations or JUS2318 Law of Armed Conflict, with emphasis on maritime operations will generate no new credits.

The course combines well with

JUS2316/JUS3516 Law of the Sea and its Uses and JUS3523 International Criminal Law.

Access to the Course

The course is available for the following students:

  • Admitted to the five-year master programme in law
  • Admitted to the two-year master programme in law
  • Granted admission to elective courses at the Faculty of Law
  • Granted additional right to study following completed Master in Law degree at UiB
  • Exchange students at the Faculty of Law

The pre-requirements may still limit certain students' access to the course

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught through blended learning, combining the use of digital modules with seminar modules. Through these students will be given an overview as well as be invited (and required) to actively participate in knowledge sharing and production.

In conjunction these forms of evaluation will encourage students to work together and share of experience and emphasis exchanges across legal cultures as well as fostering the ability to both orally and in written form present legal arguments within the field of LOAC.

Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
Mandatory group assignment of maximum 1500 words. This is assessed as a pass/non-pass.
Forms of Assessment

Home exam.

Resit next semester only for those who have passed the mandatory assignment.

Grading Scale
A-E for pass, F for fail.
Assessment Semester
Reading List
The reading list will be ready 1 July for the autumn semester.
Course Evaluation
According to the administrative arrangements for course evaluation at the Faculty of Law.
Examination Support Material
Open book. Please note the rules concerning source citation.
Programme Committee
The Academic Affairs Committee (Studieutvalget) at the Faculty of Law is responsible for ensuring the material content, structure and quality of the course.¿
Course Coordinator
Professor Knut Einar Skodvin
Course Administrator
The Faculty of Law¿s section for students and academic affairs (Studieseksjonen) is responsible for administering the programme.