Proportionality in Counterinsurgency: A Relational Theory
34 Pages Posted: 24 May 2011 Last revised: 18 Jun 2011
Date Written: May 23, 2011
At a time when the United States has undertaken high-stakes counterinsurgency campaigns in three countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan) while offering support to insurgents in a fourth (Libya), it is striking that the international legal standards governing the use of force in counterinsurgency remain unsettled and deeply controversial. Some authorities have endorsed norms from international humanitarian law as lex specialis, while others have emphasized international human rights as minimum standards of care for counterinsurgency operations. This Article addresses the growing friction between international human rights and humanitarian law in counterinsurgency by developing a relational theory of the use of force. The central insight is that a state’s authority to use force under international law is derived from, and constrained by, the fiduciary character of its relationship with its people. This relational conception of state sovereignty offers an attractive normative framework for addressing conflicts between human rights and humanitarian law. When states engage in internal armed conflict and belligerent occupation, their assertion of control over an affected population entails a concomitant fiduciary obligation to satisfy the strict proportionality standard of international human rights law. Conversely, when states defend their people in traditional international armed conflict and transnational armed conflict against non-state actors, international humanitarian law ordinarily supplies the applicable proportionality standard. Examples from conflicts in Afghanistan, Argentina, Israel, Libya, and Russia illustrate how the relational approach to choice-of-law analysis could lay a more coherent and principled foundation for counterinsurgency regulation under international law.
Keywords: international human rights law, human rights, international humanitarian law, counterinsurgency, proportionality, non-international armed conflict, sovereignty, lex specialis
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