Traditions of War: Occupation, Resistance, and the Law

By Karma Nabulsi | Go to book overview

Introduction

This story is about wars and military occupation, and the ideas underlying them. The search for these ideas will be carried out in the domain of the laws of war, a body of rules which seeks to regulate the practices of war and those permitted to fight in it. This will be done by addressing the challenge posed by a particular principle in the modern laws of war: the distinction between combatant and non-combatant. This concept has been recognized as the fundamental principle upon which the entire notion of 'humanity in warfare' rests; equally it has been acknowledged as the most fragile. The forces which underpinned this distinction (more precisely, a distinction between the lawful and unlawful combatant) will be explored by presenting three ideologies, each representing a distinct political tradition of war. These traditions were rooted in incommensurable conceptions of the good life, and the overall argument of this work is that this incommensurability lay at the source of the failure fully to resolve the problem of distinction between lawful and unlawful combatants between 1874 and 1949.

This book will make use of concepts and methods borrowed from a range of intellectual disciplines: political thought, history, and international theory. In terms of the first, political theory will be used to analyse the premises upon which different ideologies of war were constructed, and how far they cohered. Historical examples will be relied upon to ground these intellectual constructs in the practices of war in the modern European experience. Finally, this work will situate itself within the field of 'classical' traditions of international theory, examining the influence of key thinkers on war such as Machiavelli, Grotius, and Rousseau. However, it differs from this orthodox approach in two ways. First, it is not seeking to ascertain the 'true' meaning of their philosophies, but rather with how their political thoughts were interpreted and shaped by later generations. Finally, this influence is not restricted to abstract theorists and philosophers: this work is centrally concerned with paradigms constructed by practitioners of war, both professional and civilian.

The first three chapters of the book lay out the differing contexts

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