Traditions of War: Occupation, Resistance, and the Law

By Karma Nabulsi | Go to book overview

5
The Enigma of the Middle Way: Grotius and the Grotian Tradition on War

The writings, unique methodology, and above all influence on successive generations of admirers identifies Hugo Grotius ( 1583-1645), a Dutch diplomat, lawyer, poet, mathematician, theologian, and historian as the primary source for a specific school of thought on war. The tradition set out in this chapter is the most powerful of the three to be presented for a number of reasons. In the first place the Grotian tradition defines the very project of the modern laws of war: to regulate, mitigate, and standardize practices of warfare. Most crucially, Grotian legal norms lie at the heart of the enterprise of distinguishing among types of war and classes of combatants. As the editors of the most recent compilation of work about Grotius pronounced: 'What is clear is that the issues Grotius addressed, the concepts and language he used, even the propositions he advanced, have become part of the common currency of international debate about war in general, and about particular wars.'1 The tradition is also powerful because of its internal characteristics as a system of thought: flexibility, elasticity, and adaptability are its defining qualities. Although narrowly focused upon the problematic of war (in contrast with the broader Grotian traditions of war and peace and international society), the tradition outlined in this chapter draws from an extremely wide range of legal and political systems embedded in Grotius' writings. The potency of this tradition of war, finally, is manifested in its covert quality. Grotian language not only defined the terms of the debate on the laws of war, but succeeded in concealing its ideological purposes in doing so. The primary objective of this chapter will be to analyse this ideology, and show how its principles came to underpin the later Grotian rationale for the legal distinction between lawful and unlawful combatants.

The chapter begins by evoking the inherently enigmatic qualities of Grotius and the numerous (and often conflicting) traditions which he inspired. Next the distinct properties of the Grotian tradition of war are

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1
Hedley Bull, Ben Kingsbury, and Adam Roberts (eds.), Hugo Grotius and International Relations ( Oxford: Clarendon, 1990), 26.

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