Thursday, August 10, 2006

Recollecting something Adam Roberts once wrote about the laws of war

Sir Adam Roberts, the great UK scholar of international relations and the laws of war, wrote back in the mid-1990s about the curious, and unfortunate, tendency of those dealing with the laws of war to ignore the actual behavior of states in setting forth the "laws of war." As he wrote:

The laws of war are strange not only in their subject matter, which seems to many people a contradiction in terms, but also in their methodology. There is little tradition of disciplined and reasoned assessment of how the laws of war have operated in practice. Lawyers, academics, and diplomats have often been better at interpreting the precise legal meaning of existing accords, or at devising new law, than they have been at assessing the performance of existing accords or at generalizing about the circumstances in which they can or cannot work. In short, the study of law needs to be integrated with the study of history; if not, it is inadequate.

(Adam Roberts, "Land Warfare, From Hague to Nuremberg," in Michael Howard, George J. Andreopoulous, and Mark A. Shulman, The Laws of War: Constraints on Warfare in the Western World (Yale UP 1994), at 117.)

As we contemplate what asymmetric warfare means, we would do well to bear Adam Robert's counsel in mind.