A New Twist on an Old Story: Lawfare and the Mixing of Proportionalities

33 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2011 Last revised: 14 Feb 2021


The claim that a just cause erases any wrongs committed in war is an old story, just like the opposite claim that an unjust cause renders all acts unlawful. International law has traditionally reinforced a strict separation between jus ad bellum – the law governing the resort to force – and jus in bello – the law governing the conduct of hostilities and protection of persons during conflict. Nonetheless, we see today a new twist on this old story that threatens the separation between jus ad bellum and jus in bello from the opposite perspective. In essence, there is an ever-louder claim that excessive civilian deaths under jus in bello proportionality render an entire military operation unjust under jus ad bellum.

Protection of civilians is a central purpose of international humanitarian law and media coverage of conflict and civilian deaths is critical to efforts to minimize human suffering during war. However, insurgent groups and terrorists exploit this greater focus on civilian casualties to their own advantage through tactics often termed lawfare, such as human shields, perfidy and other unlawful tactics. Not only do they seek greater protection for their fighters, but they also use the resulting civilian casualties as a tool of war. This article analyzes the growing use of alleged violations of jus in bello proportionality to make claims of disproportionate force under jus ad bellum. In doing so, it highlights the strategic and operational ramifications for combat operations and the impact on investigations and analyses of IHL compliance and accountability. Ultimately, this new twist on an old story has significant consequences for the application of IHL, for decisions to use force, and for the implementation of strategic, operational and tactical goals during conflict. Most of all, it places civilians in increasing danger because it encourages tactics and strategies that directly harm civilians.

Keywords: Proportionality, Armed Conflict, International Humanitarian Law, Goldstone Report, Jus In Bello, Jus Ad Bellum, Law of Armed Conflict, Afghanistan, Lawfare

Suggested Citation

Blank, Laurie R., A New Twist on an Old Story: Lawfare and the Mixing of Proportionalities. 43:3 Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 707-738 (2011), Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 11-149, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1807385

Laurie R. Blank (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-712-1711 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.emory.edu/faculty/faculty-profiles/laurie-blank.html

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics