Law-of-War Perfidy

219 Mil L. Rev. 106 (2014)

66 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2013 Last revised: 27 Aug 2015

See all articles by Sean Watts

Sean Watts

Creighton University School of Law; Lieber Institute for Law & Land Warfare, West Point

Date Written: July 29, 2013


The structural role of law-of-war perfidy is widely unappreciated and misunderstood. More than a prohibition of underhanded or dishonorable conduct, the prohibition of perfidy is an essential buttress to the law of war as a medium of exchange between combatants – a guarantee of minimum respect and trust between belligerents even in the turmoil of war. It may be difficult to conceive of an operative or effective war convention at all without guarantees against and protections from perfidy. Yet most existing conceptions of perfidy, whether drawn from treaty, military legal doctrine, or legal scholarship, merely restate imprecise codifications or offer little more than a vague sensibility. Amid seismic shifts in the conduct, scale, participants, and means of warfare, States have codified progressively narrower conceptions of perfidy, ultimately incorporating discrete legal elements into the offense. This article argues that a principled conception of perfidy that protects minimal concerns of humanity and preserves the law of war as a scheme of minimum good faith between adversaries is at once highly elusive but critical to the future of regulated violence.

Keywords: Law of War, International Humanitarian Law, Law of Armed Conflict, Geneva Conventions, Perfidy, National Security Law, Public International Law, Treachery, Chivalry

Suggested Citation

Watts, Sean and Watts, Sean, Law-of-War Perfidy (July 29, 2013). 219 Mil L. Rev. 106 (2014), Available at SSRN: or

Sean Watts (Contact Author)

Lieber Institute for Law & Land Warfare, West Point ( email )

600 Thayer Rd
West Point, NY 10996
United States

Creighton University School of Law ( email )

2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178
United States

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