Oct. 30, 2018 - Harvard Law School Professor Gabriella Blum explored how the evolution of international law and its interaction with changing technology have drastically altered how international conflicts are defined during the Houston Law Review's 23rd Annual Frankel Lecture, "The Paradox of Power: The Modern Norms of Warfare" at the Hotel Alessandra in downtown Houston.
Blum, the Rita E. Hauser Professor of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, emphasized how the goals of war are more difficult to articulate and the challenge of achieving and defining victory.
"Liberal democracies today have greater military power than ever before. Yet, this greater military power does not manifest itself in greater destruction, but to the contrary, in greater restraint," Blum said. "Contemporary wars fought by liberal democracies, destructive to life and things as they are, are overall much less devastating than wars of the past. We thus live in a paradox of power: our means and methods of war have both become harsher in potential and tamer in practice."
Additional commentators included Kenneth Anderson, a Professor of Law at American University and the Washington College of Law, and Ian Hurd, a political science professor and director of the international studies program at Northwestern University.
Anderson discussed how air strikes and drone strikes can lead to less casualties in a given conflict.
"Professor Blum points correctly to the enormous role of technology in this," Anderson said. "One is the increase in the ability to have precision weapons and precision military systems of all kinds. The development of technologies that increase the ability to protect your own forces and thereby reduce the need that forces take to protect themselves.
"If you don't have your own people on the battlefield, one of the enormous values of that is you don't have to protect them. The measures that they may be justified in taking in order to protect themselves are no longer an issue in the same way."
Hurd added to Blum's point that with the rise of nations using cyber attacks or hacking, it complicates the manner in which force is used.
"The concept of war is hard to specify at the margins," Hurd said. "It's not really clear when we're in war and when we're not. The way out of this I suggest is to think a little differently about the rule of law.
"The mythology of the rule of law in international politics says that these are rules that are fixed and clearly stated, and if governments follow them we will achieve somewhat of a neutral starting point in which we can engage in politics. It becomes a framework for international politics, but I don't think that matches with the real world of international law, which is inseparable from politics."