In late 1944, German forces under the command of Colonel General Lothar Rendulic devastated Finnmark, Norway’s northern- and easternmost county that adjoins Russia. Rendulic was tried before a Nuremberg-based US military tribunal for this incident. He asserted that he honestly, albeit erroneously in hindsight, believed that a Soviet attack was imminent, and that scorching earth was the only effective and proportionate policy to hinder enemy advances. The judges acquitted him, noting their obligation to approach the situation “as it appeared to the defendant at the time”. This ruling, issued in the 1948 case known as Hostage, laid the foundation for the so-called “Rendulic Rule”, a key principle of modern customary international humanitarian law.
Three quarters of a century later, the idea that commanders making difficult decisions in good faith ought to be protected from wholesale retrospection remains intuitively sound. And yet unresolved questions surrounding the actual state of Rendulic’s knowledge, devastation’s suitability as a means to counter his perceived threat, and the scale of the property destruction and population displacement carried out in view of their stated purpose, linger. Nor do we clearly understand the Rendulic Rule’s emergence, content and significance under international humanitarian law, or how it relates to the reasonable commander test and mistake of fact as a defence plea in international criminal law.
Today’s operational environment surrounding combat decisions has become even more complex. Controversial military action often reverberates far beyond its immediate context. The decision’s motives and purposes, the quality and quantity of the information available as well as the honesty of its assessment, the fitness of the action chosen vis-à-vis the aim sought, the balancing of competing interests such as force protection and civilian safety, and the like, are bound to receive detailed scrutiny from numerous angles as a result. The advent of artificial intelligence, deep learning and unprecedented computing power in modern combat decision-making will only complicate the matter further.
At this conference, a multidisciplinary team of eminent historians, international lawyers, strategic thinkers and military ethicists offers a definitive account of Finnmark’s devastation, Rendulic’s acquittal, and the no second-guessing rule’s strategic, legal and ethical significance in the age of increasing autonomy in combat decision-making. What does it mean for the relevant information to be reasonably available to the decision-maker – human or otherwise? What counts as its honest assessment, and when is accountability engaged? These are among the matters our speakers address as we approach Hostage’s 75th anniversary in 2023.
DILEMA Joins Conference Co-Organisers
29 April 2021
The Asser Institute's DILEMA - Designing International Law and Ethics into Military Artificial Intelligence - joins the Swedish Defence University, VID Specialized University and the Lieber Institute at West Point as co-organisers of this conference.
Nobuo Hayashi, Swedish Defence University
Lothar Rendulic and the Devastation of Finnmark
Marianne Neerland Soleim, UiT Arctic University of Norway
Military Strategies and Campaigns in Northern Norway in 1944
Gunnar Åselius, Swedish Defence University
A Soviet Advance Across Finnmark?
Sven G. Holtsmark, Norwegian Institute of Defence Studies
Devastation's Inception, Planning and Execution
Fredrik Fagertun, UiT Arctic University of Norway
Hostage and the Rendulic Rule
Emiliano J. Buis, University of Buenos Aires
Inclusion of Finnmark's Devastation Charge against Rendulic
Stian Bones, UiT Arctic University of Norway
Genesis, Content and Significance of the Rendulic Rule under IHL
Sean Watts, US Military Academy
Reasonable Commander Test and Mistake of Fact under ICL
Yasmin Naqvi, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
Honest Errors and Combat Decision-Making in Modern Warfare
Bård Mæland, VID Specialized University
Information Revolution and 21st-Century Warfare
Tae-Hoon Kim, Swedish Defence University
Intelligent and Autonomous Technologies in Combat Decision-Making
Berenice Boutin, Asser Institute
Advent of Digitisation and the Reasonable Commander as a Legal Archetype
Valentin Jeutner, Lund University
Honest Error and Accountability in the Age of Combat Decision Autonomy
Shannon E. French, Case Western Reserve University (TBC)
Conclusion and the Way Forward
Carola Lingaas, VID Specialized University
Speakers and Moderators
Associate Senior Lecturer, Centre for International and Operational Law, Swedish Defence University
Nobuo specialises in international humanitarian law, international criminal law, jus ad bellum and international weapons law. He has twenty years of experience performing advanced research, providing expert advice, teaching postgraduate students and training senior professionals in these areas. Nobuo’s work has been cited in international war crimes trials and diplomatic negotiations. His latest monograph, Military Necessity: The Art, Morality and Law of War, was published from Cambridge University Press in 2020.
Conference on Combat Decision Autonomy 75 Years After the Hostage Case
4 June 2021, 12:00-17:00