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Sign up here to see what happened On This Day , every day in your inbox! By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Notice. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. The earlier Geneva Conventions were ratified in by 59 states. The Algerian War had transformed the terrain on which international humanitarian war was discussed—as the delegates at the Diplomatic Conference soon realized.
While Walzer does attribute a place to self-determination in his broader just war theory, the absence of these terms from his account of the conceptual vocabulary used to oppose the Vietnam War obscures the role of anticolonialists in the struggle against the war, and their role in transforming international law in this period. Vietnam was undoubtedly central to the revision of international law in the period of decolonization, but not in the way Walzer suggests.
Meeting against the backdrop of the U. Anticolonial delegates argued that national liberation movements were parties to international armed conflicts and must therefore be included.
Unsurprisingly, the United States violently opposed such proposals, which it framed as motivated by political rather than humanitarian concerns. A key U. The consequence of this, Best notes, was that. The Vietnamese did not understand it. United States pilots taken in flagrante delicto are at once protected by the or so articles of the third Geneva Convention of They are immediately looked after and given shelter under material living conditions equal to those enjoyed by our ministers while at the same time the Vietnamese citizens who are victims of the bombs just dropped by these same war criminals are still weeping over the bodies of their dead parents and children and their burnt houses.
Edited by Seth Lazar and Helen Frowe
In the s, delegates anxious to preserve the inherited order adopted a formalist stance and dismissed the demands of the new states as political and, thus, irrelevant. Against attempts to characterize their own arguments as political rather than humanitarian, anticolonial delegates retorted that their opponents were masking their own political positions in the language of neutrality.
Anxious to defend the universality of traditional international law against the charge that it was an antiquated product of colonialism, capitalism, and Christianity, the United States had no reason to ground its arguments in a Christian tradition. Here, I pursue another argument: while Western states characterized the just-war language of the new states as medieval, the anticolonial delegates did not refer either to medieval just war thinkers or to Christian theology.
Rather, they drew on the principles of anti-imperialism and self-determination to articulate a contrasting vision of justice that challenged the colonial configuration of international law and the privileging of Christian civilization. Nor did their account of self-determination share in the racial hierarchies that animated the account of self-determination Walzer borrows from J.
The evocations of just war on the conference floor were influenced more by Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong than by Augustine and Aquinas. For the Russian Bolshevik and the Chinese anticolonialist, violence was justified to overcome colonial domination and achieve self-determination. Far from being inspired by the Middle Ages, both thinkers saw anticolonial revolutions as progressive struggles on the path to world revolution.
The Egyptian legal scholar Georges Abi-Saab captured the significance Third World delegates ascribed to the distinction between just and unjust wars when he reflected later that justice is central to the asymmetrical character of wars of national liberation. In these wars, he argued, one party controls the state, and therefore the police, a conventional army and sophisticated weaponry. Two contrasting visions of justice were reflected in two distinctive amendments submitted prior to the Conference, both of which characterized wars of national liberation as international armed conflicts.
The latter bloc portrayed the question of the international status of national liberation fighters as a legal question, consequent to the right to self-determination, which required no basis in contested political assumptions about justice. His question received contrasting answers from his allies as the debates about the justice of war extended beyond the specific question of the international character of anticolonial self-determination struggles to inform in bello questions like the treatment of PoWs.
During the Diplomatic Conference, the most significant conflicts concerned the implications of just war language for in bello questions. This dispute was not new. As discussed above, during the drafting of the Geneva Conventions, the popular belief in the justice of popular resistance to Nazi occupation led to arguments that blurred the border between ad bellum and in bello considerations.
Then, Western delegates responded to the progressivist arguments of the anticolonialists by accusing them, with some irony, of seeking the abandonment of all legal strictures on the use of force and a return to the Middle Ages. It was U. The U. It generated a commitment to alleviate suffering, protect life and health, and ensure respect for human being, and it served as a cipher for the mobilization of moral sentiment.
One of those postwar challengers was Richard Baxter, who would go on to act as the U. If international law is to have a moral content, it is difficult to see how an ethical basis can be found for the principle that international law intervenes to quell acts of resistance which, in the moral sense of the world, are regarded as heroic rather than criminal. When these arguments were taken up by anticolonialists during the Diplomatic Conference, Baxter, now legal counsel to the U. Along with other Western military figures and publicists, Baxter portrayed considerations of justice and morality as extremely dangerous and prejudicial to the very notion of restraint in warfare.
Writing in , U. Just as the new states proclaimed their determination to break with the colonial past and modernize international law, the Western delegates depicted the Third World challenge as medieval. In stark contrast to the position in the law of war manual, the U. Yet despite the exaggerated claims of the Western delegates, anticolonial delegates never argued that the justice of the anticolonial cause licensed the abrogation of existing laws of war. Far from believing that all was fair in a just war, anticolonial delegates also fought for stronger legal protections for civilian populations.
While the U. Far from the debates over the Additional Protocols reflecting an emerging moral consensus expressed in Christian just war language, the conference was the site for a conflict of moral positions and understandings of justice. Contra the Western delegates, who depicted just war language as the gate through which the four horsemen of the apocalypse would enter, the effects of this language for the jus in bello were not defined in advance.
The First Crusade and Just War Theory: An Evaluation of the Justification of the First Crusade
Certainly, just war language was used to legitimate anticolonial violence, but those who affirmed the justice of such violence aimed to extend the realm of international law, not to exempt anticolonial fighters from legal restraints. By attesting to the justice of their cause, they sought to give national liberation fighters equal belligerent status and to secure greater protection of their civilians from aerial bombardment by invading powers.
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While the Western states argued that any concession to civilian belligerency would weaken civilian protection and jeopardize the foundations of the laws of war, their own goal was to preserve the freedom of occupying powers to treat those who resisted them as mere criminals or terrorists, exempted from the laws that regulate international armed conflicts. In reality, Article 1 4 did not apply different rules to different parties but instead brought certain national liberation fighters into the same set of rules that regulated warfare between states.
Senate for ratification, by reassuring contemporary critics who continued to condemn its just war rhetoric. The very equality of treatment that Aldrich would eventually acknowledge was the outcome of the drafting debates represented a decisive victory for the anticolonial delegates. That U. Oxford Handbooks Online. Publications Pages Publications Pages. Search within my subject: Select Politics Urban Studies U. History Law Linguistics Literature. Music Neuroscience Philosophy Physical Sciences. The Ethics of War up to Thomas Aquinas. The Oxford Handbook of Ethics of War.
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