February 18, 2011

IT IS PRECISELY BECAUSE THE WARFARE IS NOTHING NEW THAT THE RULES AREN'T EITHER:

Notes on Asymmetric War: Notes on not-so-new wars: in this review of the Moral Dilemmas of Modern War, Charli Carpenter takes author Michael L. Gross to task. (Charli Carpenter, 2/14/11, Current Intelligence)

Gross's typology of “asymmetry” – material, legal and moral – as an explanation for war law violations is highly useful analytically. But as a description of what is new about war it holds up poorly. Material asymmetries between belligerents have always existed, both among states and between states and their many colonial, tribal or insurgent adversaries. Neither is legal asymmetry anything new. In fact, war law was designed in part to distinguish "lawful" from "unlawful" combatancy, as nineteenth century European governments sought to privilege professional armies over nationalist insurgencies in territories under their control. And certainly, moral asymmetry has always been a feature of war. Combatants differ in the justice of their causes and of their means: guerillas, terrorists and even (at times) states have always sought to exploit the ambiguity between civilian and combatant.

In many ways, war law has adapted to these distinctions. It already recognizes, for example, a central insight that Gross articulates: that the appropriate distinction between civilian and combatant is not moral innocence but rather whether or not they are directly participating in hostilities. This is because indirect civilian participation in war is nothing new. Civilians have always sent supplies and letters of support to soldiers. They have worked in munitions factories crafting the tools of war. They have served as cooks, laundresses, and clerics. They have worked side by side with militaries, as medics and journalists. They have encouraged one another to enlist. War law has long accepted that these actions alone do not render civilians legitimate targets in war. Now Gross wants (or has positioned himself as sympathetic to governments who want) to expand the notion of “direct participation” to encompass these acts, on the basis that asymmetric wars of today represent a new beast. But this moral argument is out of sync with the facts he presents.


Even in non-democracies--like Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany--we considered the indirect combatants to be fair game. Nevermind in indirect democracies, like the Confederacy. And, of course, the Left's preferred method of indirect warfare, sanctions regimes, and devastating, even mass murderous, upon the "civilian" populations they target.



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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 18, 2011 6:27 AM
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