April 4, 2006


International laws hinder UK troops - Reid: Defence secretary calls for Geneva conventions to be redrawn (Richard Norton-Taylor and Clare Dyer, April 4, 2006, The Guardian)

John Reid demanded sweeping changes to international law yesterday to free British soldiers from the restraints of the Geneva conventions and make it easier for the west to mount military actions against other states.

In his speech, the defence secretary addressed three key issues: the treatment of prisoners, when to mount a pre-emptive strikes, and when to intervene to stop a humanitarian crisis. In all these areas, he indicated that the UK and west was being hamstrung by existing inadequate law.

Mr Reid indicated he believed existing rules, including some of the conventions - a bedrock of international law - were out of date and inadequate to deal with the threat of international terrorists.

"We are finding an enemy which obeys no rules whatsoever", he said, referring to what he called "barbaric terrorism".

Unless the rules of war could be guaranteed to bind our enemies--which they never have and never will--they're not just useless but intolerable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 4, 2006 8:27 AM

"He also spoke of the "concept of imminence" - the circumstances when a state could strike without waiting for an attack."

We could send it to the SC, the UNICC and then the UNSC for a decision. Why do we need to change the convention?

Posted by: Genecis at April 4, 2006 11:42 AM

Totally agree. I am not aware of any instance where our soldiers have received the benefit of these rules.

Posted by: Rick T. at April 4, 2006 11:57 AM

Agreed. We need to amend the GC to spell out exit conditions based on repeat violations by one side.

However, most of the problems is with interpretations of the GC that blatantly ignore the violations comitted by one side.

Posted by: Ptah at April 4, 2006 12:30 PM

The problem is that the Geneva Conventions to which the USA is signatory have exactly those clauses in them, relieving the USA of having to obey them when the enemy doesn't. Before you go and claim that more such clauses would be useful, you need to explain how they would be more effective than the current exit conditions.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at April 4, 2006 12:39 PM

I am not going to write a military law review article on the Law of War here and now. Suffice it to say that the LoW has plenty of wiggle room for dealing with the present situation.

Many of the tests, both of jus ad bellum and jus in bello involve jugdement calls of concepts such as "proportion" and "necessity" to the extent that one need display only slight cynicism to hold that the only war crime is losing.

Quare, if you are taking fire from enemy forces shooting from a hospital how many men must you lose before you flatten the place? An hundred? Ten? One? If you know the enemy is operating without regard to the LoW governing uniforms and the equivalents of uniforms, may you initiate free fire operations? Artillery strikes in urban terrain? Saturation bombing?

The enemy has a game plan we taught them in Vietnam. Put your AAA on top of flood control dikes, have them taken out, and them have your agents at the Democrat National Convention hold up a big sign reading "Stop bombing the Dikes!"

Know the law of war: to fight and to win.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 4, 2006 2:04 PM

To follow up on Lou's point, the Geneva Conventions are not the US's problem. We actually understand them, which means, in this war, we can mostly ignore them. The problem, such as it is, is two-fold. First, we're faced with a propaganda campaign that lies about the requirements of the LoW. Second, regardless of the LoW, there are some things we won't do. It is the second prong that has resulted in our taking US military casualties in order to avoid Iraqi civilian casualties.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 4, 2006 11:00 PM