AIr & S pace Power Journal

The Laws of War: Constraints on Warfare in the Western World edited by Michael Howard, George J. Andreopoulos, and Mark R. Shulman. Yale University Press, P.O. Box 209040, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-9040, 1995, 303 pages, $30.00.

During the heady days of the coalition air victory in the Gulf War, it was easy to believe that technology was taking warfare into a new—almost antiseptic—dimension. Watching the gun-camera films of precision weapons piercing doors and hearing generals and pundits talk of "surgical" strikes (certainly an ill-advised use of the term, leading to unrealistic and likely unattainable expectations), watchers were seduced into a false expectation that the world was entering a period of relatively bloodless wars, with general acceptance of legal and moral curbs upon senseless violence. Subsequent events in the states of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda have rudely disabused us. Another contemporaneous phenomenon, at least in American society, was the fascination, even in civilian circles, with such previous exotica as military necessity, collateral damage, and proportionality, often with little or no understanding of the real meaning and significance of those and related terms. Fortunately, a book occasionally comes along that assists us in putting matters in proper perspective and in understanding not only what the concepts mean but how and why the concepts arose. The Laws of War is such a book.

It is, in fact, a chronological analysis of the major eras and events in the development of Western warfare. After examining the reciprocal and complex relationship between the advance of Western civilization and changes in Western warfare, the editors then explore how both civilization and warfare affect the laws of war and are, in turn, affected by those laws. After an initial overview addressing general Western constraints on warfare, the chapters successively address "Classical Greek Times," "Age of Chivalry," "Early Modern Europe," "Colonial America," "Age of Napoléon," "Maritime Conflict," "Land Warfare from Hague to Nuremberg (1899–1948)," "Air Power," "Nuclear War Planning," and "Age of National Liberation Movements." Thereafter, Paul Kennedy (author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000) and George Andreopoulos conclude by reexamining the book's main concerns and reflecting upon the impact that changes in Western society imposed upon warfare and the law of war (which the Air Force generally terms the law of armed conflict).

However, the book does not address every area or subject within the law of war. The editors purposely imposed certain limitations upon the book. Their primary limitation was to address only the development of warfare and the law of war in the Western world—that portion of the globe encompassed by Western Europe and its American colonies. As the editors point out, this was not because valuable lessons could not be learned from other cultures; rather, they were motivated by a desire to "learn something about the way in which not only warfare but moral standards have evolved in the West; to determine whether there has been a constant improvement in civilized standards, and if not, why not" (page 1). A second limitation was to address only the legal concept of jus in bello (i.e., how nations conduct warfare) and not to address the related, but substantially dissimilar, concept of jus ad bellum (i.e., why nations go to war in the first place). (Those readers who wish to research the latter topic may wish to obtain books such as Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars [2d ed.] or James Turner Johnson and George Weigel's Just War and the Gulf War.) Third, this work is not simply a review and analysis of law-of-war treaties or customary practices. Although the authors address treaties and the development of customary international law, based upon the practice of nations conducting warfare, they do so in the context of analyzing the development of warfare and its relationship with Western law and morals.

The editors were both deliberate and fortunate in their choice of contributors for each chapter, for they not only obtained noted experts in the law of war, they obtained experts who were able to communicate clearly and succinctly. Thus, whether the subject is the evolution of the Greek hoplite (foot soldier) and its effect upon Athenian democracy, or the dilemma of the modern nation-state contending against insurgencies that seem unwilling to respect the law of war, the contributors uniformly convey their points clearly and expressively. The contributors were drawn from a wide cross section of American institutions, both military and civilian. Each is a recognized expert in at least one area of military history and doctrine; some, such as Paul Kennedy and Michael Howard, have written books of wide repute. Harold E. Selesky is a familiar name to many Air Force readers, since he directs the University of Alabama Master of Arts program in military history at Air University. Perhaps the most outstanding features of this book are its coherent, unifying themes and the contributors' rigorous research. The editors chose two major themes: (1) identifying who is included in/excluded from the laws of war and (2) determining whether jus in bello practices during any given conflict have worsened or improved, the longer the conflict lasted. Each of the contributors, while free to include other issues, specifically addresses these themes. Thus, for example, Mr Selesky addresses the attitude of the British and French enemies toward each other and toward their Indian allies during the North American colonial wars. He concludes that while the British and French commonly reciprocated courtesies, even to captured soldiers, their attitudes toward those Indians who were their putative allies were quite different. Nevertheless, their practices did not strikingly differ from the practices of the Greek city-states toward each other versus toward the Persians, or from the practices of Europeans toward each other versus toward "natives" (including "backward" Europeans such as the sixteenth-century Irish) throughout the globe (which practices were generally reciprocated by the natives, if given the opportunity).

The second theme defies easy answer. Reviewing historical examples, the editors cannot find a coherent thread. Although the Thirty Years' War and the Napoleonic wars witnessed a decline in war crimes, largely due to a decline in either religious or revolutionary fervor, the Peloponnesian War resulted in a steady increase in the number of atrocities, culminating in Athens waging virtually a total war against the populace of the other Greek city-states. Finally, in our own century, advances in technology and the passions of warring parties have led to what Kennedy and Andreopoulos characterize as "increasingly indiscriminate and total forms of warfare" (page 216).

Supporting the excellent writing and analysis is rigorous and practical research. Each chapter is clearly supported by extensive endnotes, referencing both primary and secondary sources, and each chapter is accompanied by a suggested reading list of current and easily obtained writings. Readers—whether operators or attorneys, experts or novices—will find excellent references for further research.

The Laws of War is one of the very best works written about this critical field. To the beginner, it provides an easily understood and comprehensive introduction; to the advanced practitioner, it offers a chance to explore new areas and to examine previously held beliefs and attitudes. As chief of the International and Operations Law Division at the Air Force Judge Advocate General School and principal law-of-war lecturer at Air University colleges, I highly recommend The Laws of War and anticipate great benefit from it.

W. Darrell Phillips
Maxwell AFB, Alabama


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