Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The laws of war

This extends a comment I made here.

Here's a question. What parts of the international law regarding war do Hamas or Hezbollah keep to? (Or the Taliban.)

None, surely.

Fairly clearly, therefore, there is a difference between bodies who fight wars in ways which completely disregard the laws of war (are perfect, indeed, in their disregard) and states, such as Israel and the US, which are imperfect in keeping to laws they do acknowledge.

Indeed, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban all operate in a way that attempts to maximize the chance that those they fight will kill civilians in the simple act of militarily opposing them. Their entire strategy is both to target civilians and to put civilians in harms way as much as possible.

The reality of this has to be the starting point in any analysis of military actions against them. This does not, of itself, absolve those fighting them of the limitations of the laws of war regarding civilians (though it does raise very interesting questions of the status of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban and of actions legitimate against them). But it does mean that the behaviour of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban is a fundamental part of the circumstances those opposing them have to deal with. Anyone who fails to do this is, in effect, supporting and furthering the strategy of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban by putting all the moral burden on their opponents.

There is also a nasty incentive structure here. If Israel is always cast as the villain, then there comes a point where there is no mileage in them making any effort to keep the rules. Selective concern about rules undermines the rules themselves because it makes it clear that they are, in fact, not rules.

Those who are only interested in US and Israeli sins are not furthering the cause of morality in international affairs, they are quite fundamentally undermining it. Both by maximizing the benefit for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban from their operational practice of perfect disregard for such norms and by turning the rules into purely a burden for Israel (and the US).


  1. The outrage about the assassination of the Hamas military leader in Dubai in the Australian media seemed to be centred around the identity left used to create false IDs for the perpetrators. The sins of Hamas were not even mentioned or discussed in any significant way. The implication I make from this is that the indiscriminate murder of civilians is less of a moral crime than posing as someone else, at least as far as the mainstream media is concerned.

  2. Yes, because identity theft of that kind seems a general assault on how we live now. (Apart from the fun of kicking Israel.)