Jus Post Bellum Symposium: What’s in a Name? The Great Definitional Debate over Jus Post Bellum
Carsten Stahn, Jennifer Easterday, and Jens Iverson’s new edited collection Jus Post Bellum: Mapping the Normative Foundations is a terrific contribution to the Jus Post Bellum field. The 26 chapters (one authored by myself) address a range of central issues, including interrogating the structure, content, and scope of the three separate pillars of jus / post / bellum. While the contributing authors reveal some fundamentally different and even opposing views on the essential building blocks of the enterprise, this discord is a sign of the area’s salience. The chapters in this volume indicate that the ongoing inquiry into the principles that should apply after war continues to be an issue area of great interest to practitioners, policy makers and scholars of various disciplines.
Interest in the topic is illustrated by the graph on p. 544 of the book, which indicates the “rock star” status of the concept. Before 2002, there were virtually no references to jus post bellum in the literature. Since 2007, however, references to jus post bellum have jumped off the chart, indicating a growing concentration of scholarship that tranches the disciplines of law, political science, international relations, theology and philosophy. As someone who writes in the field, I see the following as key pillars of jus post bellum investigation: (i) the recognition that building a sustainable peace is important to stopping cycles of conflict; (ii) the UN’s regular engagement in post-conflict reconstruction (raising practical questions about what types of post-conflict activities are important, and what laws should inform and limit IO activities), and (iii) exploring how the jus post bellum principles relate to, add and alter our existing legal framework, particularly with regards to humanitarian law and doctrines like the Responsibility to Protect.
At the meta-level, there are polarized views on the definition of jus post bellum, and more centrally, the utility and enforceability of a jus post bellum framework. Some scholars see that disagreement as a source of potentially useful debate (see in particular, chapters by Vatanparast, Easterday and Bell), while others focus on the conceptual unclarity that flows from these differences of views, emphasizing the limitations from a gender perspective (Hi Aolain an Haynes), the importance of clarifying the relationship with existing bodies of legal doctrines (Fox), and the potential for politicization (Vatanparast).
I note, with some irony, that some of my own work on the subject, all of which is less than 10 years old, appears to be classified as a product of the “old guard” (Introduction at 4), in that I have advocated a restrictive definition of jus post bellum and the norms that might apply in conflict situations. For example, in a 2005 article available here I define jus post bellum as the justice of post-war settlements and reconstruction, and I focus exclusively on non-consensual interventions. Others in the volume, in contrast, argue for interpretive and functional definitions, which are classified as newer approaches to the field. While these approaches certainly merit exploration, I continue to defend, and see greater value in a narrow but deep definition of jus post bellum. One reason is that to the extent that jus post bellum can and will serve a regulatory function, perhaps one day even evolving into a new Geneva Convention, there needs to be practical guidance, on concrete issues, drawn from identified cases. There is a necessary and critical reflective process that is required to getting to those regulations. My approach doesn’t suggest that philosophical inquiries should be short-circuited or curtailed, or that there isn’t value in the dialogue. However, in my view, there are considerable benefits in moving the conversation towards concrete proposals that could have a daily impact on actors in the field, such as the UN. I believe this is most effectively done when we consider jus post bellum as set of legal principles that apply in the transition from conflict to peace, as opposed to a site for exploration.
Another reason I believe a narrow approach is preferable is that there may be greater legitimacy in a narrow set of accepted principles than broad and prescriptive tools that miss the nuances of particular situations. Indeed, a relevant analogy here might be the ILC’s 2011 Draft Articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations (RIO), which, many have argued, would have been more relevant if they were less ambitious. I outline some of the controversies over the RIO articles here. For example, if the ILC had taken on a few issues in areas where there was developing practice and a perceived need for common regulation, it may have resulted a set of proposed Articles with more buy-in from IOs. As it stands, the decision to tackle the wide range of topics developed in the context of State Responsibility, and try to apply them to all IOs writ large, left many feeling that insufficient attention was given to the fundamental differences amongst IOs.
My chapter in this book, titled Jus Post Bellum in Non-International Armed Conflicts, addresses the applicability of jus post bellum to Non-International Armed Conflict Situations (NIACs). Because internal conflicts are regulated by fewer norms than international conflicts, NIACs, which are statistically the most frequent forms of conflict today, raises the following question: should the scope of Jus Post Bellum be different for NIACs? I argue for a “bounded discretion” approach, which would uphold the applicability of universal values that are derived from human rights, international criminal law and international humanitarian law, while instilling deference to local law-makers on issues of rebuilding, reconstruction, and constitutional design. I use the examples of margin of appreciation and the doctrine of subsidiarity to support this approach, to show how multi-level governance theories are relevant to jus post bellum. I argue that in applying jus post bellum, there should be a preference for governance at the most local level, unless the norms are non-negotiable, such as those derived from human rights. The editors of the book have recently applied this concept to justify a principled deviation from peacetime standards.
A final reflection on the scope of jus post bellum comes from a related body of work I am engaged in on UN sanctions. In assessing the Security Council’s peacebuilding activities through the guise of sanctions, I have been struck by the extent to which the Security Council is an important player in the jus post bellum field. Although the Council’s actions are discretionary, sometimes inconsistent, and are not applied in a regular way to like-cases, the Council has, nonetheless, been involved in some way, with almost every most major international conflicts in the last 20 years, save perhaps, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Indeed, under the so-called sanctions for peace in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, the Council has brought about considerable transitions which fall within the jus post bellum framework, by, for example, mandating free and fair elections, an end to the incitement of violence and intolerance, management of natural resources, changes to the government’s administrative infrastructure, and cooperation with international courts and tribunals. I thus agree with Dieter Fleck’s observation on p. 62 that Security Council resolutions alone are not sufficient to create a jus post bellum framework, but there is no question that they provide distinctive areas to evaluate and should not be overlooked. Moreover, the Council’s references to peace agreements in sanctions resolutions, and its role in authoring and enforcing international norms, signifies its significant engagement in and influence over peace building and the jus post bellum. Stay tuned for a future post on this issue, which draws from an article I am writing on the topic.
I have little doubt this book will soon become essential reading for those interested in jus post bellum: it contains an incisive set of analyses on a range of important topics, and makes great inroads in continuing to map the field of jus post bellum. I am grateful both for the opportunity to have contributed to the volume, and for the chance to wear my other hat as an Opinio Juris blogger, to reflect on one of the central issues I saw emerging from the volume: the definition of jus post bellum.