International Law and the Politics of Urban Air Operations

By Matthew C. Waxman | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
THE DYNAMICS OF ASYMMETRICAL CONSTRAINTS
AND ADVERSARY EXPLOITATION

People on the outside just have no idea of what this war is all about or how it is fought. It's a rough and brutal war. The Viet Cong has never heard of the Marquis of Queensbury or Geneva Conventions, and we can't afford to lose just because we have heard of them.1

— American official in Saigon

Adversaries will typically be less constrained than the United States and its allies by international legal norms. The United States generally benefits from status quo stability and international order, whereas its adversaries are often interested in overturning that order; “[s]ince law is generally a conservative force, it is more likely to be observed by those more content with their lot.”2 Apart from possible differences in commitment to international norms and preservation of the international legal regime in general, some adversaries are likely to view the United States, with its vastly superior military technology, as a manipulator of the law of armed conflict for its own benefit.

Strategic setting is critical to this analysis: Almost any “small-scale contingency” for the United States is likely to be a major war for an

____________________
1
Quoted in Lawrence C. Petrowski, “Law and the Conduct of the Vietnam War,” in The Vietnam War and International Law (Richard A. Falk, ed.), Vol. 2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 487.
2
Louis Henkin, How Nations Behave: Law and Foreign Policy (New York: Praeger, 1968), p. 49.

-43-

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