Defining Armed Conflict
Mary Ellen O'Connell
Notre Dame Law School
December 10, 2008
Journal of Conflict Security Law, Vol. 13, pp. 393-400, Winter 2008
Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 09-09
Within hours of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, President George W. Bush declared “a global war on terrorism”. Experts around the world assumed this declaration was a rallying cry, a rhetorical device to galvanize the nation to serious action. By November 2001, however, the evidence began to mount that the President was ordering actions that could only be lawful in a de jure armed conflict: targeting to kill without warning, indefinite detention without trial, and search and seizure on the high seas without consent. It was difficult to criticize these actions on the basis of international law, however, given that international law contained no widely accepted definition of armed conflict. By May 2005, the International Law Association determined that there was a pressing need for a report on the meaning of armed conflict supported by international law. The Use of Force Committee presented its Initial Report on the Meaning of Armed Conflict in International Law at the Rio de Janeiro biennial meeting of the ILA. The Report concludes that all armed conflicts have as minimum two necessary characteristics: 1.) the presence of organized groups 2.) engaged in intense armed fighting. The Report indicates that while the United States has been engaged in an armed conflict in Afghanistan and in Iraq since 9/11, it has not been engaged in a global armed conflict. The Initial Report will be expanded for presentation in final form in 2010 at The Hague biennial meeting.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 8
Keywords: terrorism, 9/11, armed conflict, war on terrorism, definition of armed conflict
Date posted: April 24, 2009
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