Saturday, February 26, 2005

Rules of Engagement (ROE) - an introduction

This is a term regularly used in the media to discuss how our military decide when and when not to use force. This post is just a short “primer” on what some of the issues are that go beyond the superficial discussions, hopefully to prepare you for more reports to come in the potential Courts-Martial of Marine Lt Patano. Rules of Engagement are not designed to tell you when to use force as much as they are to control the onset of the use of force. The first manner in which you apply ROE is to see if the enemy actions will allow the use of force. So long as they are doing nothing to meet the criteria in effect, you just have to sit there, wearing a tactical poker face. ROE are not something unique to the U.S. military, they are recognized by the International Laws of Warfare. Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a “rule book” for the conduct of war, but that’s an entirely different post. Back to the regular program “Rules of Engagement.” The basic premise accepted in the International forum is that self defense is always an acceptable reason for the use of force. That sounds pretty straight forward, but one must be well prepared to be able to sanely make a determination as to what moment when “self defense” is necessary. The constant problem generated in the aftermath of such action is well known to us, whether it was something a local police officer did, or a Marine in a mosque in Fa1lujah during the height of the fighting earlier this year. This is where the ”Monday Morning Quarterbacks” stir from their recliners, have a cup of coffee, scratch their chins and, in the comfort of their office, begin to speculate how the “force” wasn’t necessary. In this oversight, the warrior (or law enforcement officer) is expected to fully justify their response. This is necessary to a degree, for there are those few in the small minority that would actually bend the rules and commit an unlawful act, but that is the few of them. At this point, leadership can choose to support or pillory the subject, who is at their mercy, regardless of how correct their use of force was. Several considerations now should be applied in the determination to use force in self defense. First of all, did the assailing force or person pose a real threat? Did the arms they carried have the range to reach you? If yes, were they in a condition to be used with deadly effect? That may sound silly, but an example of this from sea-borne warfare was something as simple as a patrol boat carrying a cruise missile may be close enough to have its missile hit, but it may need to have a radar turned on to give it targeting information. If the radar isn’t on, then it’s not a threat. On land, you may see some one with an RPG launcher, but if it isn’t loaded with a grenade, then they don’t pose a threat. The other main criteria in determining the employment of self-defense is the use of “proportional force” to control the situation. The tactical situation may allow you to move out of range without compromising your position or mission, and remove the threat. A butt-stroke to their jaw may calm things down in close quarters; or the use of other countermeasures, such as IR and electronic decoys being deployed. On the other hand, as the enemy eyes you with evil intent and takes action to harm you or unit, or American citizens, then the use of deadly force may certainly be the appropriate response. The bottom line: Use the least amount of force to get the situation under control, but you are not obligated to be harmed. Under general peacetime situations, those things discussed above are usually all service members need to be concerned with. Despite how simplistic it sounds, I did mention that people need to be trained and prepared to make these life and death decisions. A through understanding of friendly and enemy weaponry, and tactics, in addition to related environmental conditions (terrain, oceanographic considerations, visibility) must be an integral part of these peoples instantly accessible mental “databases” in order to prevent an unnecessary loss of life on either side the equation, let alone prevent an international incident (very much a secondary determination). In wartime, the ROE is regularly modified with specific rules for various forces, thereby increasing the complexity of the decision making process for the person with a finger on the trigger of weaponry. The bottom line of this post: when you read/hear about discussions about our military use of force, understand it’s a well thought out process that governs how outcrops decide to shoot, or not, as the case may be. Add to this that the troops or their leadership have to do this thinking on their feet, in an almost subconscious manner, in milliseconds, not having the luxury of hours or days, nor any “forensic” quality evidence to temper their choices.

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