How Martial Law Can Be Used As A Military Strategy

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced that he has imposed martial law on four illegally annexed Ukrainian regions: Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk (per CNN). In his words, Putin is doing this to "formalize" his regime. As Max Bergmann, the director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explained to The Washington Post, "It allows the military to seize civilian assets, buildings, deploy resources as needed. And essentially enables the military to call the shots."

Per Reuters, the declaration of martial law also means that curfews, checkpoints, and arrests will likely be the norm for the citizens of these Ukrainian regions. Moreover, it gives the Russian military the power to move residents for "resettlement" as they see fit. The New York Times states that the Russian military has very little control of these regions. By imposing martial law, it seems that Putin is trying to dominate these regions in any way he can. Abbas Gallyamov (via Foreign Policy Research Institute), a former speechwriter for Putin, told The New York Times, "In general, all this looks not so much like a struggle with an external enemy, as much as an attempt to prevent the ripening revolution within the country." Although not as severe as in Russia, martial law can also be declared in the United States.

Martial law has been declared in the United States a handful of times

In the United States, martial law can be declared during times of war, civilian unrest, or natural disasters (via the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs). As the Brennan Center explains, this gives the military, rather than the government, full control and authority. Axios reports that state governments are more likely to affirm martial law than federal governments. When martial law is in effect in the United States, curfews can be imposed (via Criminal Defense Lawyer) and citizens can be ordered to stay home (per Moreover, individuals can be tried by a military tribunal court instead of a civilian court.

Nonetheless, reports that citizens will still have their constitutional rights. Of course, martial law is a relatively rare occurrence. A different article from the Brennan Center writes that martial law has only been declared 68 times in United States history. According to the Office of Justice Programs, only nine of these declarations transpired after World War II. That said, History writes that Hawaii was under martial law for three years after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. As Hawaii was then only a territory and not a state, the military imposed severe restrictions.

History adds that Hawaii's Japanese citizens were fingerprinted and given identification papers. Per the HuffPost, all the citizens were prohibited from taking photos of the beach to prevent the Japanese from getting hold of entryways to the islands. This was all done to ensure that the residents remained loyal to the United States and not Japan. 

Martial law in Ukraine prohibited men from leaving the country

Military Times reports that in 2020, there were fears that then-President Trump would declare martial law due to the pandemic and the civil unrest that followed the death of George Floyd. Bill Banks, an expert on constitutional law, told the publication, "The fear is certainly understandable, because as I'm sure you know, martial law isn't described or confined or limited, proscribed in any way by the Constitution or laws." However, HowStuffWorks explains that this never occurred, as Trump would have had to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 (via Brennan Center for Justice), which allows the president to use military force within the United States.

NPR writes that the last time this was used was in 1992 during the Los Angeles Riots. In fact, HowStuffWorks writes that martial law has never been declared at a national level. The same cannot be said for Ukraine. When Russia first attacked Ukraine in early 2022, USA Today states, the country subsequently declared martial law. In this case, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used martial law to rally citizens to fight for their country. Visit Ukraine notes that meant that men aged 18 to 60 were prohibited from leaving the country. Simply put, he gained soldiers by doing this.

As for Putin's plans by declaring martial law, the Institute for the Study of War (via Al Jazeera) states that the action is "largely legal theater meant to legitimize activities the Russian military needs to undertake or is already undertaking while creating a framework for future mobilization and domestic restrictions."