War Law: Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict


International law governing the use of military force has been the subject of intense public debate. Under what conditions is it appropriate, or necessary, for a country to use force when diplomacy has failed? Michael Byers, a widely known expert on international law, weights these issues in War Law.
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War Law: Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict

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International law governing the use of military force has been the subject of intense public debate. Under what conditions is it appropriate, or necessary, for a country to use force when diplomacy has failed? Michael Byers, a widely known expert on international law, weights these issues in War Law.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When President Bush insists our military forces have acted in accordance with international law, many other nations disagree. This happens so often that observers may wonder: exactly what laws are they arguing about? To readers willing to put in the work, this dense book provides the answers. According to Byers (The Role of Law in International Politics), laws governing war have existed since the 19th century, but nations freely disregarded them until the adoption of the U.N. Charter in 1945. The charter itself, however, is still subject to interpretation. When Israeli planes bombed an Iraqi nuclear facility in 1981, for example, the U.S. insisted that pre-emptive self-defense was not sanctioned. By 2003, America had changed its mind. Byers devotes three chapters to the complicated issue of self-defense, and another three to the equally contentious issue of humanitarian intervention: i.e., whether it's okay to invade a nation to stop it from committing unspeakable acts, such as genocide, or to bring democracy to its people. A final chapter attacks recent U.S. foreign policy, which, Byers argues, places American interests above international law and returns the world to the pre-1945 era when powerful nations routinely threw their weight around the globe, often with terrible consequences. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Daniel Levinson
Certainly questions about what kinds of military actions or use of force are lawful and moral and in what circumstances have been brought to the front of both domestic and international politics since 9/11.This short book (about 150 pages of text) serves as a primer for students and teachers alike. An introduction defines some key terms (treaties, customary laws, etc.) and sections and chapters are clearly identified by subject: types of United Nations action, self-defense justifications, humanitarian intervention, and international law during armed conflicts. The three chapters within each of these sections (9-15 pages each) are as clearly labeled too. Canadian professor Byers is clearly knowledgeable, though his writing is rather dry and flat: there is more defining and quoting than explaining here. The book includes a decent index and helpful lists of further reading and Internet sites. Also included in an appendix is the 1945 UN charter. Certainly a relevant, timely and informative work.
Kirkus Reviews
If Britain suspected that a Boston bar harbored IRA terrorists, would it be justified in lobbing cruise missiles into the city? Canadian legal scholar Byers doesn't raise the question, but he achieves plenty of similar provocations in this lucid primer. International law is, of course, what keeps the nations of the world from mauling one another worse than they do already; as Harry Truman remarked at the conference that established the United Nations, "We all have to recognize-no matter how great our strength-that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please." Yet, as Byers demonstrates, laws have a way of stirring up special pleading in the hope of granting exceptions; laws are constantly redefined; and rogue nations are forever testing the limits of the law, sometimes branching off on their own to pursue unilateral courses of action in places like, say, Iraq. A strict adherence to the letter of the law can yield disaster, of course, as Byers notes in the instance of Rwanda; while the "paradigm shift" that redefined genocide and led to the creation of the International Criminal Court came too late to save 800,000 Tutsis, it doubtless spared the lives of innocents in Kosovo. Yet, Byers notes, it is important to follow procedure, as Australia did in East Timor and the U.S. did in the first (but not the second) Gulf War, in order to secure international legitimacy. He goes on to examine several instances in which real events-the hijacking of an Air France jet to Uganda in 1976, the Pakistani invasion of Bengal in 1971, Saddam Hussein's attempt to crush the Kurds in 1994-led to important reevaluations of the law, some with perhaps unintended consequences. For instance,Slobodan Milosevic now sits before an international tribunal-but could not Ariel Sharon (and, for that matter, Henry Kissinger) be tried for the same category of crime?A thoughtful introduction to a complex, often baffling subject.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802142948
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/10/2007
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 979,539
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.24 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Security council authorization 15
2 Expanding reach of the security council 25
3 Implied authorization and intentional ambiguity 40
4 'Inherent right' of self-defence 53
5 Self-defence against terrorism 61
6 Pre-emptive self-defence 72
7 Pro-democratic intervention 85
8 Unilateral humanitarian intervention 92
9 Responsibility to protect 104
10 Protection of civilians 115
11 Protection of combatants and prisoners of war 127
12 War crimes courts and tribunals 136
Epilogue : war law and the single superpower 147
App Charter of the United Nations, 1945 156
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2006

    Propaganda masked with law

    I bought this book in the hopes of getting a treatise on the international law of armed conflict. Sadly, this book does not deliver. While it surely quotes various conventions, protocols, and treaties, it spends an inordinate amount of time simply denigrating the United States because he disagrees with many (if not all) of its positions related to international conflict. As an example, Mr. Byers cites the battle of Fallujah in Iraq as a war crime. Rather than back this with any documented facts, he simply states it as so. I would caution the reader to inquire into other sources (the book Fiasco, hardly favorable to US position, certainly casts doubt on Mr. Byers assumptions with regard to that battle). If Mr. Byers ever reads this review, perhaps he'd be kind enough to post an address where I can mail this book to him for a refund. I am thoroughly unimpressed and expected more from a 'scholar.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2006

    Useful study of the laws of war

    In this book, Dr. Michael Byers, who holds a Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia, looks at aspects of the international laws of war, particularly in relation to the US-British wars against Yugoslavia and Iraq. In Part 1, he examines the United Nations Security Council¿s role in matters of recourse to force. Part 2 reviews the claim of self-defence, Part 3 the notion of humanitarian intervention, and Part 4 the laws on the conduct of armed conflict and war crimes courts. An Epilogue discusses current US policies. As the International Court of Justice stated in 1986 when it found the US state guilty of attacking Nicaragua, ¿instances of State conduct inconsistent with a given rule should generally be treated as breaches of that rule, not as indications of the recognition of a new rule.¿ So Byers concludes, ¿The Kosovo war was neither consistent with international law nor effective in changing the law in favour of a right of unilateral humanitarian intervention.¿ Byers points out that Blair spoke of `community¿ when he tried to justify attacking Yugoslavia, but in fact his actions obeyed only ¿the international law of the crusaders and conquistadors ¿ which, in essence, was no law at all.¿ Byers sums up that there is no right to intervene in nations¿ internal affairs on humanitarian grounds: ¿pro-democratic intervention remains prohibited under international law.¿ Nor was the attack on Iraq legal. Byers contradicts those who argue that the UN retrospectively sanctioned the US-British attack on Iraq. ¿Resolution 1483 on Iraq, adopted in May 2003, was worded very tightly in order to leave little room for arguments that it provided retroactive authorization for the war. The same is true of Resolution 1511, adopted in October 2003 ¿¿ International law during armed conflict obliges armed forces to protect civilians and prisoners of war. Byers describes as war crimes the US assaults on the city of Fallujah, its refusal to do `body counts¿ (breaching Article 16 of the First Geneva Convention), and its torture and killings of POWs. He argues that pre-emptive acts of war are illegal: Bush¿s `dangerously destabilizing doctrine of pre-emptive war¿ provokes wars and terrorism rather than preventing them. Byers cites the UN Secretary General¿s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which stated in December 2004, ¿in a world full of perceived potential threats, the risk to the global order and the norm of non-intervention on which it continues to be based is simply too great for the legality of unilateral preventive action, as distinct from collectively endorsed action, to be accepted.¿

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