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The PRIMER Blog

Time To Change The Rules of War-Part II

GS Don Morris, Ph.D.
Sept. 10,2006

The international laws that we currently use are steeped in Western traditions, values and Judeo-Christian principles. The original designers of the Geneva Convention were individuals born, raised and acculturated within Western countries. The Geneva Conventions consist of treaties formulated in Geneva, Switzerland that set the standards of international law for humanitarian concerns. The conventions were the results of efforts by Henri Dunant (1862). Henry Dunant or Henri Dunant, was a Swiss businessman and social activist. The 1864 Geneva Convention was based on Dunant's ideas and in 1901 he received the first Nobel Peace Prize together with Frederic Passy. His family was very devoutly Calvinist (Calvinism is a system of Christian theology) and had significant influence in Geneva society.1

The conventions, their agreements and three added protocols are as follows:

First Geneva Convention (1864): Treatment of battlefield casualties and creation of International Red Cross

Second Geneva Convention (1906): Extended the principles from the first convention to apply also to war at sea.

Third Geneva Convention (1929): Treatment of Prisoner of war.

Fourth Geneva Convention (1949): Treatment relating to the protection of civilians during times of war "in the hands" of an enemy and under any occupation by a foreign power.

In addition, there are three additional amendment protocols that have been added to the Geneva Convention: As of June 27, 2006, when Nauru adopted the four conventions, the entire Geneva Conventions have been ratified by 194 countries. As per article 49, 50, 129 and 146 of the Geneva Conventions I, II, III and IV, respectively, all signatory states are required to enact sufficient national law to make grave violations of the Geneva Conventions a punishable criminal offence. However this has not uniformly occurred. Unless a country formally ratifies each of the preceding, said country is not legally required to honor the agreement.

It is useful to understand that each new set of guidelines has attempted to appease groups of violated people as well as trying to civilize an otherwise uncivil set of human behaviors.

The entire idea that one can first create war rules emanates from a value system that honors and values life. Additionally, the concept that once rules are stated, clarified and agreed to, all participating parties will honorably behave in accordance with them. This is a value found within the culture of western societies. Thus, the world community created war rules based upon western civilization human values and grounded in western rules of self-government. This is not true of other countries; their leaders have instead argued that a treaty signed simply grants them time to gain strength and when appropriate the laws will be broken. Therefore, these same "laws' serve as a means to an end. It is duly noted that within a theocratic state, the "law of the land" is not based upon secular or governmental law; rather it is based upon Sharia Law. In these countries there is no separation of state and religion and Sharia Law is THE prevailing legal authority. This is critical to understand if we are to comprehend the necessity for changing current International War Rules.

When we "break our word" there are usually immediate and harsh ramifications brought upon the country in breach of the laws. Additionally, the West set up an International Court to adjudicate these infractions. The court itself has been modeled and grounded by Judeo-Christian values. This same model and same values cannot be found in all countries currently using and abusing this system of righteousness during wartime. It is also true that in reality there is no such operational system with authority over the individual actions taken by sovereign nations, militias, non-governmental groups or by defined terrorist groups. The so-called authority rests with the ability of nations to secure the uniformed cooperation of all parties who have signed the agreements. The last half of the 20th century up to the present time has presented example after example of conflict and abuse of the interpretations of these war rules. Legal scholars, historians, the media and bloggers have made available to the public these considerations. I leave it to the reader to avail him/her self of the literature.

Rather, my point is again simplistic: can the world authentically expect groups of people and nations representing contrasting cultures, distinctly different cultures, possessing different behavior operational codes to adhere to the current concept of Western law? Let us be honest and speak the truth. Up until the world's most recent history, the world authority figure has emanated from Western values specifically when it comes to war rules. Times have changed dramatically and I suggest this is no longer applicable theory into practice.

Fascist Islam does not adhere to the West's rules and/or belief system with respect to human life. This world community "marches to a different drummer" and thus has no need to obey or follow "our rules". However, they are willing to abuse our self-imposed laws upon us while not holding themselves accountable to them. Thus, there is nothing inappropriate or "wrong" when they target civilians with rockets, send homicide bombers to murder civilian targets, use children as human shields, imbed themselves within civilian populations, do not distinguish themselves from civilian populations, send waves of children (unarmed) ahead of its "soldiers" to clear the battlefield of mines and the list goes on and on. Life on this earth is in preparation for the true after life and no greater good can come from serving G_D by killing innocents as a homicidal bomber.

As I argued in a previous piece, it is time for us to change the rules of war. If we do not, we will loose. This will require courage to stand up for what we believe-they do for their beliefs. It will require us to have the courage of our convictions-they do for their convictions. It will require us to not waiver in the face of criticism, they do not listen to it; and it will require a long-term commitment, they are so committed!

Our enemy has already recognized that the rules of war need adjusting or "tweaking'. The end of the recent hostilities in Lebanon had no sooner begun than a group of Arab states approached the US Congress demanding an investigation into the use of cluster bombs by Israel. This request was honored without hesitation. Munitions shipments to Israel were halted, a probe was begun-Israel's enemies acquired yet another war strategy. I am pleased to say that the US Senate rejected the bid to curb the use of cluster bombs.4 This was an attempt to shift the war rules language so as to prevent Israel from using a legal weapon-one that 56 other countries possess and that 9 countries other than Israel have used. Again we see the enemy manipulating language inside a document that they fundamentally do not support. Of course with this comment I have upset many of you and you are shouting, "yes, but we also signed the Geneva Conventions" and ...to this I suggest that those "shouters" should examine the actual behavior, on the ground, of Hizzbollah, Syria and Iran. Shall I count the real violations of the very signed agreement you say you signed? In my world, words are an expression of thoughts and actions authenticate your thoughts. The ethical disconnect between signed agreements and real implementation is the "tale of the tape".

I therefore request that the existing war rules be either discarded and we start all over again or we amend the existing rules of war. I also ask that given the ugliness of war, why should we have any rules at all? This is a question that does not resonate positively with most people. Is it possible to make war equitable and fair when by design it is meant to cause death and destruction to the enemy? What do we mean, exactly, by war rules? When there is a conflict in human values whose rules should you follow? How exactly should Israel address the following situation?

"The article reveals that Hizbullah has recruited over 2,000 children aged 10-15 to serve in armed militias, and that the Hizbullah-affiliated Mahdi Scouts youth organization is training them to become martyrs. "The children are educated from an early age to become martyrs in their youth, like their fathers, and their training is carried out by the Mahdi Scouts youth organization... [This organization], which is affiliated with Hizbullah, teaches the children the basic principles of Shi'ite ideology and of Hizbullah's ideology... The first lesson that the children are taught by Hizbullah is 'The Disappearance of Israel,' and it is always an important part of the [training] program...The organization's goal is to train an exemplary generation of Muslims based on the [principle of] 'the rule of the jurisprudent' [a founding principle of the Islamic Revolution in Iran], and to prepare for the coming of the Imam Mahdi [the Shi'ite messiah]. Its members, including the children, undertake to obey their commanders, to bring honor to the [Muslim] nation, and to prepare themselves for helping the Mahdi [when he comes]."5

How should any western nation defend itself against armed terrorists whose military operational strategy is to fire lethal missiles into civilian populations and to use not only the children but to use civilians as shields? What are possible solutions?

I suggest that the Western countries collectively approach the existing IJC at the Hague and file war crime charges against Hizzbollah and Lebanon. Furthermore, we should indicate that we are temporarily suspending the Geneva conventions as the rules of war-we will do our best to honor humanitarian practices but we no longer feel morally or ethically compelled to do less than our enemies do on the filed of battle. We will also hold any sovereign nation responsible for all civilian injuries and deaths if militias operating in their countries or non-governmental sanctioned entities disrespect fundamental humanitarian behavior.

Concurrently, the Western countries should convene a war rules writing summit and invite non-Western countries to participate as full partners in re-defining war rules and consequences. Those countries choosing to not participate operate in war at their own risk and accept that rules of war may be suspended during any conflict.

If none of the preceding can occur in the immediate future, Western countries minimally must file a complaint over sections in the Geneva Convention that address civilian definition, participation and response to these populations during time of war.

It is clear that our enemy will use our own language and human values against us to denigrate our ability to defend ourselves. They use the "power" of world opinion to persuade governments to decrease countries ability to apply military actions upon an enemy. As long as we, in the West, continue to value what others think of us, the current war rule interpretations will demean our ability. The outcome of shifting policy forces sanctions upon countries. The sanctions can range from economic to military actions against us. Under the current "legal structure" it is possible to bar munitions, replacement parts, weapons and much more to be made accessible to the sanctioned country. Thus, our enemy can defeat us by using our laws against us. Does this make any sense to anyone? Do we not have the moral obligation to protect our own people and thus the legal imperative to do the same? Perhaps it is really just me who sees the world through a non-existent lens!

End Notes

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Morris, GS Don, "Understanding the Fourth Geneva Convention", posted on www.primerct.org and http://docstalk.blogspot.com August 2006.
  3. ibid
  4. US Senate rejects bid to curb cluster bomb use, Jerusalem Post, September 8, 2006, http://www.jpost.co
  5. Mirfat Al-Hakim, "Hizbullah's Children's Militias." , August 18, 2006 edition, Roz Al-Yusuf an Egyptian weekly



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