John Reynolds

Introduction: The ‘Legalisation’ of the Discourse on War

Israel’s most recent large-scale offensive against the Gaza Strip, Operation Cast Lead, initiated on 27 December 2008 and continuing until 18 January 2009, generated an unprecedented level of debate in the media and public domain over questions normally confined to the obsessions of lawyers and legal scholars.

Commentary—ranging from the well-versed to the uninformed—on issues such as grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, the doctrine of proportionality, and the legality of the use of force under the UN Charter, pervaded newspaper and website coverage on a daily basis, and continues to do so.1

This is broadly reflective of the fact that opposition to war in the 21st century, be it in the context of the invasion of Iraq, South Ossetia or Lebanon, has increasingly been framed in legal terms. In contrast to World War II or Vietnam, the strategy of opponents of such conflicts has been to denounce the initiation and conduct of hostilities less on the basis of their immorality, and more on the basis of their illegality. At the same time, the military establishments of the States involved are acutely aware of the ‘legalisation’ of the vocabulary through which war is analysed, and the consequent need to find ways to justify their actions as compliant with international law.