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The Laws of War

The Laws of War: Constraints on Warfare in the Western World

Michael Howard
George J. Andreopoulos
Mark R. Shulman
Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Laws of War
    Book Description:

    This book explores not only the formal constraints on the conduct of war throughout Western history but also the unwritten conventions about what is permissible in the course of military operations. Ranging from classical antiquity to the present, eminent historians discuss the legal and cultural regulation of violence in such areas as belligerent rights, the treatment of prisoners and civilians, the observing of truces and immunities, the use of particular weapons, siege warfare, codes of honor, and war crimes.The book begins with a general overview of the subject by Michael Howard. The contributors then discuss the formal and informal constraints on conducting war as they existed in classical antiquity, the age of chivalry, early modern Europe, colonial America, and the age of Napoleon. They also examine how these constraints have been applied to wars at sea, on land, and in the air, planning for nuclear war, and national liberation struggles, in which one of the participants is not an organized state. The book concludes with reflections by Paul Kennedy and George Andreopoulos on the main challenges facing the quest for humanitarian norms in warfare in the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17488-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Michael Howard, George J. Andreopoulos and Mark R. Shulman
  4. 1 Constraints on Warfare
    (pp. 1-11)
    Michael Howard

    The subject of this volume is the limitations that Western societies have imposed on themselves in their conduct of war: not just the laws of war as expressed in such positive enactments as the Hague and Geneva Conventions, but rather what has sometimes been termed the “cultural regulation of violence”; what was, in the old-fashioned phrase, “done” and “not done” in war; constraints of which formal laws were only expressions, or which did not necessarily coincide with formal laws at all. Our contributors describe these constraints as they applied in classical antiquity, in the High Middle Ages when war in...

  5. 2 Classical Greek Times
    (pp. 12-26)
    Josiah Ober

    When approaching the subject of agreements regulating the conduct of interstate warfare it is important to separate the relatively informal, socially mandated and enforced rules of war from legally enacted laws of war.¹ Here my emphasis will be on the former, since there is little evidence that the archaic and classical Greeks enacted internationally recognized laws governing the practice of warfare. There are only two real candidates for long-term, formal, sworn agreements intended to control the form taken by armed conflict among the mainland Greek states. First, a tradition reported by the geographer Strabo (10.448) claims that in the course...

  6. 3 The Age of Chivalry
    (pp. 27-39)
    Robert C. Stacey

    To those who lived during them, of course, the Middle Ages, as such, did not exist. If they lived in the middle of anything, most medieval people saw themselves as living between the Incarnation of God in Jesus and the end of time when He would come again; their own age was thus a continuation of the era that began in the reign of Caesar Augustus with his decree that all the world should be taxed. The Age of Chivalry, however, some men of the time—mostly knights, thechevaliers, from whose name we derive the English word “chivalry”—would...

  7. 4 Early Modern Europe
    (pp. 40-58)
    Geoffrey Parker

    In a provocative article entitled “The Gulf Crisis and the Rules of War,” published recently inMilitary History Quarterly, Martin van Creveld highlighted numerous contrasts between the ancient and modern laws of war. On the one hand he noted a transformation in thejus ad bellum(rules concerning the legitimacy of war), since the use force to alter national boundaries is now prohibited by the United Nations Charter, whereas formerly it was the commonest single cause of conflict. On the other van Creveld pointed to significant changes in thejus in bello(rules concerning the conduct of war), with widespread...

  8. 5 Colonial America
    (pp. 59-85)
    Harold E. Selesky

    To render the enormous subject of constraints on war in colonial America more manageable, this chapter is divided into three sections, according to the nature of the military situation encountered by the people living in English (later British) America in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. The first section examines the expectations and experience the early settlers brought with them to their new homes, in particular how experience in the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland was reflected in their first encounters with Native Americans in Virginia and New England. The second section deals with how colonial Englishmen responded to dangers on...

  9. 6 The Age of Napoleon
    (pp. 86-97)
    Gunther Rothenberg

    During the twenty-three years from 1792 to 1815, war passed through one of its great transitions. The limited dynastic wars of the kings ended, the wars of the nations began. But did this mean the end of international law and restraints on the conduct of war as they had evolved since the days of Hugo Grotius?

    Some would answer yes. Though the century before the revolution, often called the Enlightenment, had not been peaceful—discounting revolts and colonial clashes, some sixteen wars were waged between various combinations of European powers—they argue that these wars of kings had evolved into...

  10. 7 Maritime Conflict
    (pp. 98-115)
    John B. Hattendorf

    “Mare quod natura omnibus patet,” wrote the Roman jurist Ulpian in the third century.¹ In the late nineteenth century Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan expressed a complementary thought when he declared: “The first and most obvious light in which the sea presents itself from the political and social point of view is that of a great highway; or better, perhaps, of a wide common in which men pass in all directions.”² Both of these phrases echo the first principle of modern international maritime law that has prevailed from the seventeenth century to the present: the open sea is free to the...

  11. 8 Land Warfare: From Hague to Nuremberg
    (pp. 116-139)
    Adam Roberts

    This is an account of a failure—of how some important and apparently successful diplomatic efforts to limit the cruelty and ferocity of war were followed by two world wars. These wars were not only conducted on a vast geographical scale, but there were also hideous excesses in the manner of their conduct, including on land the carnage of trench warfare, the use of gas, the breakdown of the distinction between soldiers and civilians, and extremes of cruelty in occupied territories. Why?

    This story of failure begins with the two Hague Peace Conferences, of 1899 and 1907, at each of...

  12. 9 Air Power
    (pp. 140-159)
    Tami Davis Biddle

    The termair powerrefers to a type of military capability, but it also refers to an idea. The most dramatic manifestation of that idea, and the one with the greatest consequences for the law of war, is aerial bombing. The history of aerial bombing is an intricate and fascinating one, as it taps into something deep in the human psyche. For centuries men dreamed of mastering the skies. When that goal finally came to fruition it brought with it a sense of profound revolution which resonated strongly in the realm of military affairs. The sense of excitement generated by...

  13. 10 Nuclear War Planning
    (pp. 160-190)
    David Alan Rosenberg

    It is a specter that has terrified a generation. An international crisis escalates into full-scale conventional war. At some point in the conflict, tactical nuclear weapons are used at the battlefronts, followed inexorably by a theaterwide nuclear exchange. One of the superpowers, fearing defeat, uses a small number of nuclear weapons against targets in the other’s homeland. Designed to show resolve and encourage de-escalation of the conflict, this strike instead causes the other superpower to react with a massive attack against the opponent’s nuclear forces and perhaps its cities. The land- and sea-launched ballistic missiles of both sides pass each...

  14. 11 The Age of National Liberation Movements
    (pp. 191-213)
    George J. Andreopoulos

    One of the most distinguishing features of the post-1945 era in international politics is the emergence of national liberation movements.¹ What this term immediately brings to mind is a whole set of movements that sought to integrate territorially oriented nationalism with social-reformist themes.²Emancipationin one form or another became a code word, as didpeoples; the latter figured prominently in the 1977 Geneva Protocol I when the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions were extended via article 1 §4 to “armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist régimes in the...

  15. 12 The Laws of War: Some Concluding Reflections
    (pp. 214-226)
    Paul Kennedy and George J. Andreopoulos

    This concluding chapter briefly synthesizes some of the key elements of the preceding chapters and offers reflections on the main challenges facing the enforcement of humanitarian norms in warfare on the eve of the twenty-first century.

    Among the major themes in this volume is the critical issue, Who is included in, and who is excluded from the laws of war? In seeking to answer that apparently simple question, one gains insights into the social order, the political assumptions, and the economic structures of the group in question. The ritualistic, carefully constrained form of hoplite warfare seems unreal and bizarre to...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 227-280)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 281-282)
  18. List of Contributors
    (pp. 283-284)
  19. Suggested Readings
    (pp. 285-290)
  20. Index
    (pp. 291-303)