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Enemy Merchant Vessels as Legitimate Military Objectives

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Chapter Summary

The Round Table on "The Military Objective and the Principle of Distinction in the Law of Naval Warfare", held in November 1989 at Bochum, Federal Republic of Germany, had the benefit of an introductory report by Commander William Fenrick (Canada) covering the whole spectrum of targeting in naval warfare. The author's comment presented on that occasion focused mainly on the criteria determining whether an (enemy or neutral) merchant ship may be regarded as a legitimate military objective and attacked as such. His first comment concerns the question of law in relation to practice. The Commander's Handbook adds to the "war effort" criterion the further requirement that "compliance with the rules of the 1936 London Protocol would, under the circumstances of specific encounter, subject the surface warship to imminent danger or would otherwise preclude mission accomplishment".

Keywords: 1936 London protocol; enemy merchant vessels; legitimate military objective; naval warfare



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