War/law/space Notes toward a Legal Geography of War

By Jones, Craig A.; Smith, Michael D. | Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, August 2015 | Go to article overview

War/law/space Notes toward a Legal Geography of War


Jones, Craig A., Smith, Michael D., Environment and Planning D: Society and Space


Abstract. To some degree war has always entailed its rhetorics of justification and regimes of authorization. Today, however, war and law have become inseparable; now more than ever, war requires a legal armature to secure its legitimacy and organize its conduct. Our introduction (and the special issue more broadly) investigates this lethal conjunction of law and war across space and time. To capture the interplay of war, law and space-time, we conceive them as forming a kind of nexus or set of entanglements. Adapting legal geographer Nick Blomley's (1989) concept of the "law-space nexus", we call this the war/ law/space nexus. Our discussion highlights some of its main features and introduces the subsequent papers that make up this special issue.

Keywords: war, law, geography, human rights, authorization to use military force The law on terror

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It has been over twelve years since the invasion of Iraq, and the Afghanistan intervention will soon enter its fifteenth year, with no clear end in sight. These era-defining invasions may be reaching their inauspicious endgames but as they do, they have taken on alarming afterlives, as we have witnessed with the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)(1) in Iraq and now Afghanistan (Goldstein, 2015). Under President Obama, George W Bush's "Global War on Terror" has been rebranded, recalibrated and expanded. The Guantanamo Bay prison remains open and indefinite detention threatens to become a permanent feature of the legal landscapes of the US and other liberal democracies. The National Security Agency and its affiliates continue with sweeping programs of covert electronic surveillance and data harvesting whose vast scale has only recently been exposed (see Greenwald, 2014). The Obama administration has adapted Bush's kill-or-capture program, displaying a preference to kill-not-capture (Scahill, 2013; Woods, 2015a) while also extending lethal drone strikes from Afghanistan and Iraq into Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. In other respects, Obama has adroitly fulfilled the duty of any US president to manage the unruly precincts of the US imperiuni (see Morrissey, this issue): orchestrating if not spearheading, for example, NATO'S Libyan intervention in 2011; the French-led expedition in Mali in 2013; the international efforts to neutralize the threats posed by a nuclear Iran and North Korea; the coalition strikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria and, more recently and reluctantly, the Saudi-led war against the Houthis in Yemen.

Questions of law and legality have been central to the American-cum-global 'war on terror'since it began. Bush laid the juridical cornerstone of the 'war on terror'on 18 September 2001 when he signed into law a joint resolution of the US Congress, the 'Authorization for Use of Military Force' (AUMF). The AUMF, as it became known, authorized the President:

"to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons" (US Congress, 2001).

For nearly a decade and a half the AUMF has served as the primary (domestic) legal basis for the US 'war on terror.' Congress rushed to pass the AUMF in the terror-stricken and vengeful days following the 9/11 attacks, and since then it has licensed a whole suite of military operations whose spatial and temporal horizons far exceed anything the AUMF's originators ever imagined. As one senior Senate Democrat put it, "none of us, not one who voted for it, could have envisioned we were voting for the longest war in American history, or that we were about to give future presidents the authority to fight terrorism as far flung as Yemen and Somalia. …

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