what is permissible in war…

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Benjamin Valentino, Paul Huth, and Sarah Croco ask: “Do international laws effectively protect civilian populations in times of war?” (p.339) “Laws prohibiting deliberate attacks on civilian populations represent some of the longest-standing formal international legal agreements in existence,” they explain. “Despite intense debate over the normative, legal, and practical effects of these treaties, however, to date no quantitative empirical analysis of compliance with the laws of war has been produced. Indeed, until the last decade, few scholars had attempted to provide quantitative evidence for compliance with international laws of any kind. In this article, we seek to shed light in this important question and provide a better understanding of why some combatants choose to intentionally target civilians in such large numbers while others seem to respect the distinction between enemy soldiers and civilians.” (p.339)

Informal norms restricting the targeting of civilians during war are probably as old as war itself. Nearly all societies and cultures have generated at least some rules governing the behavior of combatants during war. As Michael Walzer notes, one nearly universal rule is the “tendency to set certain classes of people outside the permissible range of warfare, so that the killing of any of their members is not a legitimate act of war but a crime. Though their details vary from place to place, these rules point toward the general conception of war as a combat between combatants, a conception that turns up again and again in anthropological and historical accounts.”
In the West these norms were embodied first in international customary law and then eventually codified into formal international legal agreements. The first major multilateral effort to formalize rules against targeting civilians culminated in the 1907 Hague Convention….” (p.341)

hmmm how is ‘the distinction between enemy soldiers and civilians’ constructed in the popular imaginary?

How are ‘certain classes of people [set] outside the permissible range of warfare, so that the killing of any of their members is not a legitimate act of war but a crime’?

Does spy fiction – or other popular fiction – contribute to all of this in any way?

Ref: Benjamin Valentino, Paul Huth, and Sarah Croco (2006) COVENANTS WITHOUT THE SWORD International Law and the Protection of Civilians in Times of War World Politics 58 (April 2006), 339–77

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