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Asymmetric conflict structures

31-12-2006 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 864, by Robin Geiss

Inequality in arms, indeed, significant disparity between belligerents, has become a prominent feature of various contemporary armed conflicts. This article attempts tentatively to assess the repercussions this could have on the principle of reciprocity, especially the risk of the instigation of a destabilizing dynamic of negative reciprocity which ultimately could lead to a gradual intensification of a mutual disregard of international humanitarian law.

   
Robin Geiß
Ph.D., LLM (NYU); is currently working as a research fellow with Professor Meinhard Hilf at the Bucerius Law School, Hamburg, Germany. 

 
Abstract 

Inequality in arms, indeed, significant disparity between belligerents, has become a prominent feature of various contemporary armed conflicts. Such asymmetries, albeit not at all a new phenomenon in the field of warfare, no longer constitute a random occurrence of singular battles. As a structural characteristic of modern-day warfare asymmetric conflict structures have repercussions on the application of fundamental principles of international humanitarian law. How, for example, can the concept of military necessity, commonly understood to justify the degree of force necessary to secure military defeat of the enemy, be reconciled with a constellation in which one side in the conflict is from the outset bereft of any chance of winning the conflict militarily? Moreover, military imbalances of this scope evidently carry incentives for the inferior party to level out its inferiority by circumventing accepted rules of warfare. This article attempts tentatively to assess the repercussions this could have on the principle of reciprocity, especially the risk of the instigation of a destabilizing dynamic of negativ e reciprocity which ultimately could lead to a gradual intensification of a mutual disregard of international humanitarian law.  

 

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