Laws of War: Current Challenges

Event summary by our intern Mily Matthews:

The Centre for Global Constitutionalism was honoured to welcome Professor Hyeran Jo from Texas A&M University. Her research deals with the working of international organizations, the design of international rules and agreements, and the question of compliance with international law by non-state actors. In keeping with these research interests, the talk centred around seven challenges to the laws of war and seven responses to these challenges.

Dr Jo began her talk by defining exactly what the term ‘laws of war’ means, defining it as ‘principles, norms and rules that regulate conduct of war to reduce suffering in conflict zones’. She then laid out what she sees as the seven most pressing challenges to these laws of war. These challenges were: civilian killing; use and recruitment of children; chemical weapons use; destroying cultural properties; returning ISIS fighters; armed un–manned vehicles and regulating warfare and writing wars. Each challenge was accompanied by interesting and insightful examples, which fully illustrated the scale of these challenges.

The second portion of the talk was dedicated to exploring a spectrum of seven solutions to these challenges, which ranged from soft measures, such as humanitarian engagement, to harder and more coercive solutions such as military interventions. The talk proper ended with a short quiz, and an invitation for the audience to suggest any pressing challenge to the laws of war that had not already been discussed. Those raised and discussed included artificial intelligence and nuclear weapons.

The talk then concluded with a question and answer session, during which Professor Jo dealt expertly with a range of topics. These included if sixteen-year olds serving in the British armed forces count as child soldiers (to which the answer is no!) and topics pulled straight from the news such as what should be done about non-combatants who have subscribed to radical ideology. She made it clear that there is a real need for emerging threats to be recognised and included in the laws and norms that govern laws. However, she seemed cautiously optimistic that this is something that existing bodies can accommodate.