The Law of Armed Conflict: Constraints on the Contemporary Use of Military Force edited by Howard M. Hensel
|Reviewed By:||Christian Enemark|
|Reviewed in:||Australian Journal of Politics and History|
|Date accepted online:||14/01/2008|
|Published in print:||Volume 53, Issue 03, Pages 465-504|
In these tumultuous times of terror and counter-terror, when confidence in international rules for restraining violence appears to be ebbing, editor Howard Hensel has assembled a valuable collection of papers. The overall objective of his book is to assess some of the contemporary normative challenges associated with the laws governing the use of force in a twenty-first century context. Common to each chapter is the proposition that changes in the nature of warfare and military strategy are prompting fresh attempts to redefine the scope and purpose of such laws. Contributions include: a critical assessment of the military necessity principle as applied within the contemporary doctrine of "anticipatory self-defence"; a discussion of the legal basis and policy implications of the strategic option of targeting enemy leaders during periods of armed hostilities; a historical review and assessment of the concept of protecting cultural objects in the event of armed conflict; an analysis of alternative scholarly perspectives concerning the principle of civilian protection; a discussion of contemporary issues concerning the status of prisoners of war and detainees during periods of armed conflict; an assessment of the implications of the status and accountability of armed groups under specific provisions of the law of armed conflict; and a discussion of Just War theory in the post-September 11, 2001 era, combined with a suggested new approach for assessing ambiguous threats directed against populations and societal assets.
The chapters offer a diversity of views on the contemporary security environment, but the standard of writing is consistently high throughout the book. With meticulous attention to detail, each chapter is well-sourced and the authors' arguments based on clear reasoning. Particularly noteworthy is the provocative chapter by Catherine Lotrionte, a serving White House lawyer. Her cost-benefit analysis of assassination (a strategic option increasingly discussed in US policy circles) is well-explained and has strong contemporary resonance. Alice Morgan's chapter also makes a valuable conceptual contribution to the book. She proposes a refreshing "Wise War" framework based on Taoist philosophy, as an alternative to the traditional (Christian) Just War criteria, for decision-making in the "post 9-11 world" which is "not your parents' security context" (p. 194).
Published as part of Ashgate's Global Interdisciplinary Studies Series, the book's stated aim is to enlighten and provoke scholars, politicians, military leaders and policy analysts. However, non-lawyer readers might find the chapters by Hensel (protection of cultural property) and Françoise Hampson (detentions in the "war on terror") somewhat indigestible because of their excessive length. Nevertheless, each provides sound insights for those willing to wade through lengthy quotations and dense textual footnoting. The editor could have made the book accessible to a wider readership if he had synthesised some themes common to successive chapters. In addition, there are important threshold questions not adequately addressed, but on which there is apparent disagreement among chapter authors, such as whether terrorism is something against which war can be waged and the extent to which military instruments are useful for counterterrorism purposes.
Overall, the book could have better fulfilled the promise of its title had it provided more empirical detail on conflicts ongoing today. In particular, Iraq under US occupation has been the scene of many specific incidents worthy of analysis as putative breaches of contemporary laws of war. However, Richard Falk's concluding chapter conscientiously leaves the door open for further, less US-centric research on problems facing the law of armed conflict. Within its own parameters, the book is an excellent contribution to the literature and one likely to inspire more analysis of this important dimension of international politics.