The Politics of Military Occupation

By Peter M. R. Stirk | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1
The Evolving Practice and Meaning of Military
Occupation

Tracing the evolving practice and meaning of military occupation immediately encounters problems of definition and chronology. Both are compounded by the fact that military occupation is an unusual and problematic political phenomenon because it breaks through many distinctions by which political life is normally organised and understood, as it also breaks through analogous legal distinctions.1 Under conditions of military occupation the distinctions between the international and the domestic, between war and peace (or at least active armed conflict and its cessation), between violence and the exercise of political authority, become fluid and uncertain. Given these peculiarities, as well as the diversity of conditions in which military occupation has taken place, it is not surprising that doubt has been expressed about the definition and utility of the concept of military occupation and the numerous other qualifications of the term occupation, though others have suggested, for example, that despite the variety of forms, the ‘core meaning is obvious enough’.2 As will be demonstrated below, the core meaning has often been in dispute. More importantly, there has been uncertainty about the core meaning not only in the minds of commentators or even the draftsmen of military manuals and legal conventions, but also in the minds of occupiers and occupied populations. As General von Voigts-Rhetz, one of the German delegates to the Brussels Conference of 1874 which paved the way for the subsequent Hague Peace Conferences, pointed out, that could have disastrous consequences for occupied populations.3

There is somewhat less uncertainty about how to date the phenomenon, though still significant divergence. Some accounts simply take the Hague Regulations of 1907 as the starting point, though usually noting that these were the culmination of earlier commentary and codification.4 There is something to be said for this given the striking resilience of those Regulations in the face of the divergent practices

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