Traditions of War: Occupation, Resistance, and the Law

By Karma Nabulsi | Go to book overview

Conclusion

By the end of the Geneva negotiations in 1949, significant progress had been made in the codification of the laws of war. Many ancient customary instruments of repression against occupied civilians were prohibited by treaty law. However, the question of the distinction between lawful and unlawful combatants remained essentially unresolved. This book has outlined both the conceptual and the practical historical contexts within which this problem was confronted, and in so doing has offered a particular explanation of its intractability. The argument has been that at the heart of this problem lay three fundamentally divergent philosophies of war, whose differing conceptions of lawful belligerency could not be reconciled.

The martial tradition celebrated the virtues of war, which was defined as inherent in man's nature, and indeed the expression of his most noble ends. While recognizing the inescapable quality of conflict, the Grotian paradigm sought to regulate its conduct and effects. For its part, the republican tradition defined war as an inherently political phenomenon, and sought to identify a normative framework for citizen participation in it. Beyond their ideological articulations, it has emerged that these paradigms were advancing the claims of distinct constituencies. Martialist ideology was in effect a philosophical justification of the practices of conquering and expanding armies; republicanism championed the rights of citizens in captured and occupied territories; and Grotian philosophy articulated the rights of states--a characteristic middle position dictated here by the need to serve the interests of both invading and invaded parties.

A number of central themes have run through this work, and their importance may now be drawn out. In terms of the study of international relations, this book has underlined that in situations of wars of conquest and military occupation, many of the traditional dichotomies in both international relations theory and political theory are lost: distinctions between state and society, individual and collective identities, and notions of public and private become completely and hopelessly enmeshed. For example, the concept of state sovereignty is central to

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