Military Government

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Military Government

A government that is established during or after military occupation by the victorious country in an armed conflict. According to International Law, the territory that has been placed under the authority of a hostile army continues to belong to the state that has been ousted. However, it may be ruled by the occupiers under a special regime.

When a country's army achieves decisive victory over an enemy, the victor may supplement military presence in the enemy territory with some type of government. If the victor is a signatory to certain international agreements, it must follow international Rules of War that outline the rights and responsibilities when governing a territory under belligerent occupation. This military government is not the same as Martial Law, although the occupiers may impose martial law as part of maintaining order.

The rules of military government are established in various international agreements, primarily the Hague Conference of 1907 and the Geneva Conference of 1949. These documents provide guidelines on such topics as rights and duties of the occupying power, protection of civilians, treatment of prisoners of war, coordination of relief efforts, property rights of the ousted state, and other wartime and postwar concerns. A country that establishes a military government and steps beyond its allotted rights runs the risk of international censure or criticism. Countries sometimes try to deny that they have imposed a military government. For example, in the Persian Gulf War, Iraq claimed that Kuwait is an Iraqi province and therefore not eligible for the protections given by the law of belligerent occupation.

The U.S. Civil War (1861–1865) contributed to the development of rules for military behavior and belligerent occupation. The Lieber Instructions is considered a first attempt to codify the laws of war as they existed during the Civil War era. Columbia College Professor Francis Lieber prepared this list of laws in 1863 at the request of President Abraham Lincoln. They led in part to the Brussels Conference of 1887 and the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907 on land warfare. The Lieber Instructions included sections on military jurisdiction, protection of persons, and public and private property of the enemy.

The U.S. Civil War pitted the Confederacy—a group of southern states that wanted to secede from the United States—against Union forces, made up of primarily northern and newly formed states. After the victory of Union forces, the U.S. government had to decide how to treat the defeated South. Some vocal members of Congress insisted that because the Confederate states had violated the Constitution by seceding, they had committed "state suicide" and should be treated like conquered provinces.

These politicians finally got their way in 1867, two years after the war ended. State governments were abolished in the rebel states, and the territory was split into five districts, each commanded by a major general of the Union army. Gradually public opinion in the North pushed for home rule for the South, and by 1870 all southern states were restored to the Union. President rutherford b. hayes took office in 1877 and removed the army from the last three occupied southern states.By means of the Hague and Geneva Conferences, and organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the rules of war have evolved beyond those in the Lieber Instructions. When following these general rules, victorious countries continue to have broad discretion in how they govern conquered zones. The United States has used various approaches to establish postwar governments. For example, after World War II, the United States established very different types of governments to oversee the reconstruction of Germany and Japan, which were defeated by Allied forces.

After Germany surrendered in World War II, the country and its capital were each divided into four zones. Government of the zones was assigned to four different countries: the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The occupiers differed in their opinions about what type of permanent government should follow military occupation, and the zones occupied by the Soviet Union became communist East Germany. The other zones became democratic West Germany. The two Germanys were reunited in October 1990.

Unlike the military government in Germany, the U.S. occupation of Japan did not involve a large military presence. After Japan surrendered, its existing civilian governing structure was left mostly intact, directed by General Douglas MacArthur and the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP). During occupation, Japan—a nation of seventy million people—was supervised by 600,000 troops, whose number was soon reduced to 200,000.

During more than six years of U.S. occupation, the Japanese Diet (legislature) met and passed laws that were subject to Veto by SCAP. The Japanese army and navy were abolished, weapons were destroyed, 4,200 Japanese were found guilty of War Crimes, Shinto was disestablished as the state religion, and a new constitution—the "MacArthur Constitution"—was adopted. SCAP accomplished land reform, strengthened trade unions, and placed limits on Japan's powerful monopolistic corporations.

After World War II the international community agreed that more safeguards were necessary to protect civilians and their property in occupied territories. As a result the Fourth Geneva Conference was established in 1949 to tackle these issues.

In more recent times, the United States, after invading Grenada and Panama, established a military government in each country during a brief belligerent occupation.

Further readings

Chapman, William. 1991. Inventing Japan: An Unconventional Account of the Post-War Years. New York: Prentice-Hall Parkside.

Craven, Avery. 1969. Reconstruction: The Ending of the Civil War. New York: Holt, Rinehart.

de Mulinen, Frederic. 1987. Handbook on the Law of War for the Armed Forces. Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross.

Dolan, Ronald E., and Robert L. Worden. 1992. Japan: A Country Study. Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. Headquarters, Department of the Army. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Lawson, Gary, and Guy Seidman. 2001. "The Hobbesian Constitution: Governing Without Authority." Northwestern University Law Review 95 (winter): 581–628.

Thomas, David Yancey. 2001. A History of Military Government in Newly Acquired Territory of the United States. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein.


Military Law.

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