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The term “rules of engagement” can generally be applied to refer to the a range of rules, and order directives for the disciplined forces that are aimed at defining the instances, conditions, levels and mode in which actionable forces can be applied towards situations that are considered to be threats by the military forces taking the said actions (Jeremy, 1994). They are documents that generally define the limitations within which authorized usage of force, depending on the powers of the military forces and the various capabilities they have, can allow them take forceful actions. They are usually in the form of military guidelines or legal and lawful commands that are used by the military forces in times of combat. They have to give indications of the measures that are not authorized in mitigating any military situation. They also never give indications of any expected outcome. This paper looks at the rules of engagement as stipulated by the teachings of Napoleon that acted as a guide during military engagement and to a specific perspective the rules of engagement as applied by the United States in the era of the Vietnam War. It also identifies the various levels of engagement and their characteristics.
The rules of engagement are sometimes used for domestic operations though in most cases they are used for international operations. A rule of engagement card, which is a document, is usually issued to every soldier and acts as a summary of the various regulations during every military mission that the soldiers are involved in. Research has found out that many countries do not have their own rules of engagement documents. There exist two major rules of engagements that are internationally recognized. These rules of engagements are the NATO Rules of Engagement Manual MC 362.1 and the San Remo Rules of Engagement Handbook that are commonly used by countries engaging in warfare.
The rules of engagement used during the South East Asia war have been found to be the most controversial rules of engagement ever to be used. Rules of engagement are generally meant to control instances of ammunition usage by intervening so as to ensure the civilian population is protected. In Vietnam, they were misused for political purposes too. The Vietnam War had been commanded by General William Westmoreland of the US army, who also participated in the World War II, as well as the Korean War and later came to serve as the US army chief of staff until the year 1972. Robert McNamara also served as the US secretary of defense at the time the American army was sent to Vietnam for war.
Though the American army had guidance from the JTF commands, differences were seen in the various arming orders levels. The arming orders within the rules of engagement in Vietnam War can be identified as follows. The arming order AO-I, which was the first level was characterized by the at sling riffle, bayonet scabbard placed on belts, holstered pistols, baton on belts, ammunition control number OIC/NCOC with empty ammunition chambers. The second level was AO-II with at port rifles, bayonet scabbard on belts, in scabbard bayonets, holstered pistols, batons on belts, ammunition control number OIC/NCOIC with empty ammunition chambers. The third level was AO-III with at sling rifles, bayonet scabbard on belt, fixed bayonet, holstered pistols, on hand batons, ammunition control number OIC/NCOIC with empty ammunition chambers. The fourth was AO-IV with at port rifle, on belt bayonet scabbard, fixed bayonet, holstered pistol, on hand baton, ammunition control number OIC/NCOIC with in pouch empty ammunition chambers. The fifth is AO-V with at port rifle, on belt bayonet scabbard, fixed bayonet, holstered pistol, on hand baton, ammunition control number OIC/NCOIC with an empty magazine in the rifle or pistol. The final stage is the AO-VI with at port rifle, on belt bayonet scabbard, fixed bayonet, in hand pistol, on belt baton, ammunition number OIC/NCOIC with loaded but locked ammunition chambers.
In conclusion, the various commanders are expected to have a clear view of the potential threats and be able to make proper assessments on the soldier’s experiences, trainings and general level of discipline. Training on the various threats should also be done on a realistic basis since it is significant and enables the commanders to know the balances that exist between real and potential threats and situations of safety.