About the Lieber Institute

Research. Collaborate. Educate.

The Lieber Institute for Law & Land Warfare at West Point seeks to foster a deeper understanding of the complex and evolving relationship between law and warfare. The Institute leverages academic and military expertise to examine the role of the law of armed conflict in emerging conflicts around the world and ensure the law’s relevance in contemporary warfare.

In today’s complicated battlespaces, the continued effectiveness and enforceability of the law is highly dependent on whether the expressed rules remain definitive, understood, and accepted. Yet contentious topics highlight a troubling lack of unanimity in the international community concerning the law. The Lieber Institute aims to address this challenge by creating a diverse community of thought through its events, publications, speaking engagements, research, and education initiatives. Only by proactively keeping the law of armed conflict relevant may the primacy of international law remain unquestioned in contemporary warfare.

The United States Military Academy’s Lieber Institute for Law & Land Warfare—at the crossroads of academia and military legal study—is the ideal location for serious discussions on how the law of armed conflict will remain an effective regulatory body in modern day. Additionally, its enrichment programming educates, provides an intellectual resource for, and empowers current and future combat leaders in matters involving the laws of armed conflict.

 

History

In 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, the Union army promulgated General Orders No. 100, “Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field.” Known informally as the “Lieber Code” after the primary preparer of the orders, the code addressed a host of wartime issues including the protection of civilians; the humane treatment of prisoners, regardless of race; military necessity; and allowable means and methods of warfare.

Although originally applicable only to Union forces, the influence of the Lieber Code soon extended far beyond the American conflict. Numerous countries endorsed the code outright or used it as a foundation for their own national codes of conduct for soldiers. The Lieber Code also formed the basis for international codifications of the law of war, to include the Hague Regulations and the Geneva Conventions. As such, it represents a landmark in the development of the law of war and a seminal achievement in the regulation of armed conflict.

Instruction on the Lieber Code was incorporated into the curriculum at West Point in 1863, soon after the code was promulgated. The study of law at West Point dates to 1821 when Emerich de Vattel’s The Law of Nations (Le Droit des Gens) was adopted as an official textbook. In 1858, legal instruction was expanded to include the study of military law, a subject which included the law of war.

In 1878, Guido Norman Lieber, the son of the drafter of the Lieber Code, was appointed the second Professor of Law at West Point. G. Norman Lieber was a U.S. Army First Lieutenant at the outbreak of the American Civil War, and he served with distinction for the Union throughout the remainder of the conflict. As a Professor of Law, Lieber taught cadets a variety of legal subjects, including the law of war. In 1882, Lieber left West Point to serve as Assistant to The Judge Advocate General in Washington, D.C. In 1895, he was promoted to brigadier general and was appointed The Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army. Lieber served in this capacity until his retirement in 1901 after a 40-year career in the Army.