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Monday, April 16, 2012

Interesting article on the international laws of war

At the Washington Post blog, Jennifer Rubin interviews Peter Berkowitz on his new book “Israel and the Struggle Over the International Laws of War.”

An excerpt:
You write that international laws are “a vital component of a freer, more peaceful and more prosperous world order.” But does Israel’s experience with Goldstone and the flotilla suggest otherwise?

Israel’s bitter experience with the Goldstone Report and, in the end, better experience with the Gaza flotilla controversy — both of which concerned Israel’s operations against Hamas, which is the ruling authority in Gaza and which is sworn to Israel’s destruction — involved the attempt by influential actors on the international stage to criminalize Israel’s inherent right of self-defense. All liberal democracies must combat this abuse and corruption of the international laws of war.

At their origins and properly conceived today, the international laws of war seek to balance the legitimate claims of military necessity and humanitarian responsibility. Liberal democracies such as Israel and the United States, which are engaged in a long struggle against transnational terrorism and depend on their armed forces on a daily basis to defend their ways of life, have a special interest in the struggle over the international laws of war. That’s in no small measure because soldiers and officers imbued with the principles of freedom and equality justly take pride in honoring laws of war rightly understood. The laws of war rightly understood take seriously both combatants’ obligation to defend their nation and their obligation to minimize harm to noncombatants.

Is the proper application of international law possible without a majority of liberal democracies in the international community?

Yes and no. It is certainly possible for the liberal democracies such as the United States and Israel to operate in accordance with the international laws of war, in part because the international laws of war accord states with competent judicial systems considerable responsibility for investigating and punishing war crimes. However, to the extent that the international laws of war are coopted by authoritarian states and transnational elites with their own political agendas, liberal democracies will be compelled to assume even greater responsibility for interpreting, upholding, and defending the international laws of war. The recognition of laws of war that are binding on all nations should not be confused with the obligation to vest in some mythical international community the authority for defining and punishing violations of the laws of war.

Nearly half the book can be read here.

(h/t Noah)