After Russia’s military assaults against Ukraine’s power reactors, many fear the precedent has been set for future military attacks against power reactors, not only in Europe, but in the Middle and Far East as well as South Asia. Over 170 nations have ratified Protocol 1 of 1977 to the 1949 Geneva Convention, which specifically discourages military assaults against nuclear power plants.
However, the U.S. has only signed Protocol 1, but not yet ratified it. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s Law of War Manual further states that under customary international law, “no legal presumption of civilian status exists” for objects. It also notes that electrical power stations are generally recognized to “be of sufficient importance… to qualify as military objectives in armed conflicts.”
In light of these facts, should the Pentagon’s current understanding of America’s obligations under Protocol 1 be controlling? What, if anything, might be the case for a stricter interpretation of our obligations? What are the relative risks, if any, of either position? This workshop discussion held on August 23rd at 5:00pm EDT covered these questions. Gary Corn, who served 26 years as a national security lawyer in the Army including as General Counsel to Cyber Command, led with a brief presentation followed by NPEC’s executive director, Henry Sokolski.
A written version of Mr. Sokolski’s brief is posted directly below, followed by videos of the workshop.
The page above is the first of Mr. Sokolski’s nine – page presentation. To access the complete presentation click here.
Gary Corn’s explanation of the Pentagon’s current view of its obligations to avoid targeting reactors
Henry Sokolski on why the Pentagon’s view needs updating
Q and A