Roots of Restraint in War: The Capacities and Limits of Law and the Critical Role of Social Agency in Ameliorating Violence in Armed Conflict

In: Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies
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  • 1 Professor of Law, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide, Australia

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International humanitarian law (ihl) primarily applies to govern the conduct of individuals in the most desperate time of human endeavour, namely armed conflict, in order to ameliorate violence. However, understanding how ihl is disseminated, trained and actually applied in the battlespace is, remarkably, a relatively underexplored area. There are countless volumes dedicated to analyzing and parsing the myriad of words and formulas that comprise this burgeoning body of law. However, there is very little empirical analysis undertaken on effective training strategies and even less on tracking nuanced compliance and decision-making processes in actual armed conflict. Against this background, the 2018 icrc study ‘The Roots of Restraint in War’ offers an insightful account of how to best frame training strategies and how to optimize compliance in the battlespace. It consciously adopts an inter-disciplinary approach. It accepts fully the role of social, ethical and moral factors that can orientate decision making in a manner that combines with the applicable law. The goal is restraint in war, of a type that comes not from clinical compliance with complex legal formulas and interpretative rectitude but is derived from a deeper sense of professional self-identity. It acknowledges the risks inherent in its approach and yet, compellingly, offers a blueprint for melding principles of ihl with a sense of personal commitment. Such an approach is to be celebrated for the audacity and courage that it exhibits.

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