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A Theory of the Laws of War

32 Pages Posted: 25 Sep 2002  

Eric A. Posner

University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: September 2002


The laws of war govern the weapons and tactics that belligerents may use against each other. This paper uses a model of conflict to explain and evaluate the laws of war. In the model a nation's propensity to engage in conflict is a positive function of the effectiveness of military technology, and a negative function of the destructiveness of technology. Accordingly, in theory nations would want to agree to laws of war that permit destructive weapons and tactics but limit their effectiveness. However, nations with different endowments and resources will enjoy differential advantages, and this makes agreement on specific laws of war very difficult. The paper discusses empirical implications of the argument, and discusses whether the Hague Conventions are consistent with the model.

JEL Classification: K0, K3

Suggested Citation

Posner, Eric A., A Theory of the Laws of War (September 2002). U Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 160. Available at SSRN: or

Eric A. Posner (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

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