The Dilemma of Direct Participation in Hostilities

51 Pages Posted: 8 May 2009

See all articles by Eric Christensen

Eric Christensen

Christensen Communications LLC; King & Spalding LLP

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Date Written: May 8, 2009


A universal and comprehensive definition of direct participation in hostilities (DPH) does not exist. Furthermore, modern warfare’s tendency to blur the distinction between combatant and civilian necessitates some revision of DPH. However, States have incentives to pursue narrow or broad interpretations of DPH, or even both. These contradictory strategies create a dilemma for policymakers who seek to revise the concept of DPH. Any revision is likely to put some group of individuals at risk; there is not a simple answer to the question of how best to revise DPH. Instead, a radical revision of DPH is needed. This report will briefly examine the law of war and then explore the relative merits of the U.S., Israeli, and the International Committee of the Red Cross’s interpretations of DPH. Lastly, this report will recommend potential solutions to the dilemma of DPH interpretation, most notably a membership-based approach.

Keywords: Direct participation in hostilities, DPH, law of war, law of armed combat, LOAC, revolving door problem, membership approach, United States, Israel, International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, terrorist, Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, Geneva Conventions, civilian, combatant

Suggested Citation

Christensen, Eric, The Dilemma of Direct Participation in Hostilities (May 8, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Eric Christensen (Contact Author)

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