Latest Issue
Special Issue: Democracy Beyond Border Edited by David Held and Robert Schütze, this special issue of Global Policy brings together a group of scholars to discuss and assess the extent to which democracy can crystallise beyond the nation state, and whether such developments are, in principle, desirable.

The Law of War's Essential Role in Containing Brutality: Syria's Painful Reminder

Laurie R. Blank and Geoffrey S. Corn - 14th August 2013
The Law of War's Essential Role in Containing Brutality: Syria's Painful Reminde

The civil war in Syria refocuses recent discourse about the law of war and provides an essential reminder of the law's core purposes and foundations. Perhaps more importantly, it serves to remind the international community of a lesson first embraced in 1949: that the humanitarian suffering of armed hostilities is in no way linked to the state or non-state character of the parties involved. Indeed, civil wars have proven over the past 200 years to be among the most brutal of conflicts. The magnitude of the brutality resulting from the ongoing hostilities in Syria therefore highlights the importance of demanding compliance with the law of war, or international humanitarian regulation, in such situations and offers compelling evidence of the logic of the historic effort to regulate hostilities through international law.

Policy Implications

  • Law must serve the collective interests of both the international community and humanity. The magnitude of the ongoing brutality in Syria highlights this essential purpose and the importance of demanding compliance with international humanitarian regulation in such situations and offers compelling evidence of the logic of the historic effort to regulate hostilities through international law.
  • Although perhaps no law could have restrained the brutality of the Syrian response to the opposition, once the situation involved the hallmarks of violence traditionally associated with "war", the body of law most logically suited to regulate that situation was the law of armed conflict.
  • Nonetheless, legal rules can start to become detached from the pragmatic realities that originally generated them.  The international community's great hesitation in designating the situation in Syria as one of armed conflict governed by the law of armed conflict ― the result of an overly legalistic interpretation of evolutions in the law intended to address pragmatic hostilities ― is an unfortunate example of this divorce between legal rules and pragmatic foundations.
  • Syria's conflict thus demonstrates the need to return to the roots of the modern law applicability methodology, which requires that an overly legalistic analysis of situations of internal violence be rejected in favor of a pragmatically driven totality analytical approach. 

 

Download pdf