Monday, February 4, 2008

The Laws of War (Part the First)

Distinguished readers, scholars, and assorted vertebrate...

Seeing as how my dear colleague and associated devoted legions (of readers, I being the only person here to command legions in the traditional sense) love to question how trivial incidences of murder, rapine, and bad literature can be justified under the Laws of War, I feel it is incumbent upon myself to open that veritable Pandora's Box by asking, (solely for the benefit of the masses) - what are these so-called "laws" - in common terms, such that the average Hoplite can understand... Better yet, in terms so simplistic that even the Commander in Chief of the mightiest military the planet has ever seen can wrap his primate brain around them without having to make up words to make it all make sense.

Of course, a large part of the problem is, there are just so many laws! No less than 45 draft or complete documents, some ratified by many governments, some ratified by few. A notable example would be the 1938 draft of the RULES OF AERIAL WARFARE, which had as Article XXII the following: "Aerial bombardment for the purpose of terrorizing the civilian population, of destroying or damaging private property not of military character, or of injuring non-combatants is prohibited."

How this documented, if ratified, would have affected the outcome of WWII, where a major strategic element employed by the Allies consisted of doing just that is questionable.

In any case I propose the following.

For purposes of this discussion (which will by its very nature be prolonged) let us confine each post to dealing with a single document, or pertinent Article thereof, if a document has multiple key points.

Let us be thorough in asking all questions, raising such proposals for changes, and in short, performing such due diligence that, when we have completed our congress on the subject, we may be suitably ready to publish "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Laws of War", which will no doubt become an International best-seller, and all us to both retire, or at the very least allow me to purchase a title and engage in all the myriad pleasures and vices thereunto pertaining.

For starters, I should think we might best begin by discussing how wars come to be. War, like sound, cannot exist in a vacuum; like a fire, it must be started. Therefore, we must have and aggressor and a defender, and we should define these terms.

The definition of defender - to ward off attack from; guard against assault or injury; one supposes the Random House definition will do quite nicely.

As for an aggressor, this requires a little more research. UN Resolution 3314 defines aggression as "the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State."

QUESTION - what about non-state actors?

Examples of aggression spelled out in Resolution 3314 include: "invasion or attack... any military occupation... bombardment by the armed forces... blockade of the ports or coasts..."

QUESTION - So, is it safe to say that, for the purposes of international law, an aggressor is any actor who carries out such actions?

I look forward to your learned discussion, and shall encourage you to choose the next subject for this discourse, although, should you move too slowly, I may act aggressively and put it forth myself. And I should note, that because I am but a simple man, perhaps it is best to move forward in an elementary manner, ie, having established the definitions of aggressor and defender, define when war may be waged legally, thence on to how it may be waged at the strategic, the operational, and finally, the tactical levels.


Diodotus said...

Aha. A challenge.

It's true the world could use a "laws of war for dummies" book. I have once or twice tried to put together a course on the Geneva Conventions and am always stuck grasping for reading materials that are not heavily legalistic. There are a few, however, to which I'll post links presently.

Anyway, you propose a very wide-ranging discussion. I suggest narrowing in considerably.

First, let's focus on the laws of war and skip "how it may be waged at the strategic, operaitonal and tactical levels" - or, at least discuss those aspects only in the context of the laws of war.

Second, I recommend we focus on the law of armed conflict (jus in bello) and skip or at least table discussions of the legality of conflicts themselves (jus ad bellum). The law is rather better developed in terms of what may be done once conflict commences than it is on when conflict is legitimate. (The definition of aggression in international law is so contested, for example, that the signatories to the Rome Statue for the International Criminal Court tabled the discussion entirely in favor of getting some consensus on the books about genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.)

If you accept these terms, I shall periodically post some clarifying thoughts on the matter as individual posts, and encourage you to do the same regularly, while commenting on the particulars of your posts using the comments function.

This will all be interspersed with my usual ramblings about current events and the care and feeding of young megalomaniacs, of course.


Cleitus the Black said...

My learned Diodotus... As to your terms, I am rather torn, like a criminal thrown to the lions, I'm afraid...

I can see you seek to deprive me the opportunity of proving neatly that under the current laws, aggression is never justifiable, and the aggressor is guilty of the highest war crime on the books, that of, at the risk of sounding redundant, aggression.

However, in the interest of shedding at least a little light on this dingy corner of human political affairs, I shall agree to table (not thoroughly renounce!) the discussion of jus ad bellum, though it very much amounts to putting the chariot before the warhorse.

However, I believe that we must discuss the application of these laws at each of the three levels of war; strategic, which policymakers dictate - operational, where Generals and Colonels devise plans to implement that strategy, and the tactical, where a soldier, sailor, Marine, or airman may be obliged to break the laws; such as the use of firebombs on targets (ie, bridges) in a civilian area, as practiced by Marine pilots in the rather ludicrously-named "Operation Iraqi Freedom".

As for the care and feeding of young megalomaniacs, I recommend a regular diet of red meat, Homer, Nietzsche, and thrashings; as you can see by my example, it produces a most excellent result.

Warmest regards,
Cleitus the Black

Diodotus said...

Fine and well. More to come.

"; urchinTracker();