Should the Best Offense Ever Be a Good Defense?

  • Colonel Gary P. Corn

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Standing Rules of Engagement/Standing Rules for the Use of Force (SROE/SRUF) for U.S. Forces is the provides strategic guidance to the armed forces on the authority to use force during all military operations. The standing self-defense rules in the SROE for national, unit, and individual self-defense form the core of these use-of-force authorities. The SROE self-defense rules are built on a unitary jus ad bellum framework legally inapplicable below the level of national self-defense. Coupled with the pressures of sustained COIN operations, this misalignment of individual and unit self-defense authorities has led to a conflation of self-defense principles and offensive targeting authorities under the Law of Armed Conflict. In order to reverse this trend and realign individual and unit self-defense with governing legal frameworks, this paper recommends reconceptualizing self-defense through the lens of the public authority justification to better reflect the status of service members as state actors whose actions are subject to the domestic and international legal obligations of the state.