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International Law

Murderous Immortalities: Taliban Victory, Palestinian “Resistance” and Jihadi Terrorism

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An immortal person is a contradiction in terms.”-Emmanuel Levinas, God, Death and Time (2000)

Taliban Victory and Jihadi Terror: Strategic and Legal Connections

At the surface, there are no clear connections between Taliban victory in Afghanistan and wider Jihadi terrorism. Upon closer inspection, however, the Taliban triumph reflects more than Islamist success in just one country. Potentially, at least, strengthened Islamist governance in that perpetual battleground country will expand to other parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

               In all likelihood, this corrosive expansion will be soon and possibly sudden.

               Further details are necessary. The Taliban’s rapid re-conquest of Afghanistan reenergized global jihad’s determined war against the “unbeliever,” especially the United States and Israel. Among other things, dramatic submission of the world’s principal superpower (the evident head of a “Zionist-Crusader alliance”) to Koran-directed “true believers” is being regarded by Islamist loyalists as an auspicious omen for “holy war.” For tangible example, the future of Palestinian “resistance” groups such as Hamas now appears substantially brighter. In this connection, though Hamas is a Sunni organization, it is still supported by Shiite Iran. Both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad regard the US defeat in Afghanistan as a premonition of eventual operational success and as proof of divine guidance.[1]

               These are not exclusively military or religious issues. There are also various legal or judicial consequences to be considered.[2] To begin, the Palestinian insurgency is generally identified as “terrorism” by Israel and much of the West.[3] Even if assorted Palestinian fighting organizations could be granted “just cause” for their stated political objectives, the means they have chosen are often patently unjust.[4]

               Under authoritative law, the oft-repeated assertion that “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is no more than an empty witticism. Under international law, insurgent resorts to force, even those with a presumptive just cause, become terrorism ipso facto when they are applied indiscriminately to targeted populations.[5] In essence, indictments of Palestinian armed force as terroristic are fully justified whenever insurgent fighters act against the codified[6] or customary rules of “proportionality,”[7] “discrimination” (“distinction”) and/or “military necessity.”[8]

               Under binding international law, which is always an integral part of United States domestic/municipal law,[9] even the “sacred” rights of insurgency must always exclude any deliberate targeting of civilians or resorts to force intended to inflict gratuitous suffering. Shallow political witticisms aside, no insurgent force can ever assert a right to employ “any means necessary.” Though such clichéd revolutionary slogans may prove useful in mobilizing popular Palestinian support against Israel, they have no valid jurisprudential content.[10]

Explicit Legal Standards

                Prima facie, the pertinent normative rules are unambiguous. In world law, any insurgency that intentionally blurs the lines between combatant and non-combatant populations is impermissible. Irrespective of any “just cause,” such insurgency is “terrorism.”[11] Moreover, in these easily recognizable matters, there can be  no proper legal exceptions and no legal defense arguments based on purportedly reciprocal wrongs.

               “Rights cannot derive from wrongs” remains a peremptory expectation of all international law.[12] Similarly, there can be no valid legal claims based on “the other side’s” alleged wrongdoing.

               In proper legal terminology, tu quoque, an argument that the “other side’s” transgressions justify “any means necessary,” has long been formally discredited. Under international law, any argument for tu quoque is inherently invalid after the landmark judgments handed down at Nuremberg (Germany) in 1945-46 and at the  later Far East (Japan)  ad hoc criminal tribunal.[13]

               For both Israeli (IDF) and Palestinian insurgent forces, the usual right to armed force[14] can never supplant the peremptory rules of humanitarian international law. Such primary or jus cogens rules (norms that permit “no derogation”[15]) are also correctly referenced as the law of armed conflict orthe law of war. Inter alia, attentiveness to this basic law must remain an integral part of any armed force’s military operations. This immutable law has evident doctrinal roots in the Hebrew Bible, the Law of Athens and in Roman Law (most notably Emperor Justinian’s Institutes).

               During Israel’s last Gaza war, diversionary legal manipulations by Hamas and its supporters were de rigeur. Again and again, without any legal basis, supporters of Palestinian terror-violence against Israeli noncombatants insisted that “the ends justify the means.” Leaving aside the ordinary ethical standards by which any such argument must always be characterized as indecent, the law is similarly plain: In any insurgency, even the most allegedly noble cause (ends) can neverjustify openly inhumane effects (means).

               In law, such matters are not complicated. For more than two thousand years, core legal principles have specified unequivocally that intentional violence against the innocent isprohibited. Always.

               In ongoing matters of terrorism and counter-terrorism, legal reasoning ought never be disregarded.[16] Clichés do not make sensible policies, nor do they make  authoritative law. In contemporary jurisprudence, one person’s terrorist can never be another’s “freedom-fighter.” Even presumptively allowable resorts to insurgent force must always conform to long-settled laws of war.

               The message is clear. International law cannot be invented and reinvented according to particular situations. It maintains very specific and determinable form and content. It cannot be defined and redefined by insurgent groups or by insurgent patrons. This is especially the case when insurgent violence intentionally targets a designated victim state’s most vulnerable civilian populations.

               In these cases, ipso facto, insurgent violenceis terror-violence.

               Sometimes we hear insurgent groups referenced as “national liberation movements.” Nonetheless, when such groups fail to meet the test of just means, they can never be protected as lawful or legitimate. Even if “compelling law” (“peremptory” or jus cogens rules) were to accept the factually questionable argument that certain terror groups had fulfilled broadly accepted criteria of “national liberation,” (e.g., Palestinian Hamas), they would still not satisfy the equally germane legal standards of discrimination, proportionality, and military necessity.

               Significantly, these core standards are not reserved to national armies. They are expressly applied to insurgent or sub-state armed forces by the common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and by the two 1977 Protocols to these Conventions.

               There is more. In law, all war[17] and insurgency is governed by ascertainably common standards of “humanity.”[18] These overarching criteria are binding upon all combatants by virtue of comprehensive customary and conventional international law, including Article 1 of the Preamble to the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907. This foundational rule is generally called the “Martens Clause;” it makes all persons responsible for upholding the “laws of humanity” and the associated “dictates of public conscience.”

The Obligations of Comity

                World law requires continuous international cooperation, an obligation made most conspicuously famous by Emmerich de Vattel’s Law of Nations (1758) and William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769). Though probably unknown to a majority of practicing lawyers in the United States, Commentaries represent the literal foundation of United States domestic law.  

               Under an always-compulsory international law, terrorist crimes mandate universal cooperation in apprehension and punishment. As punishers of “grave breaches” under international law,[19] all states are expected to search out and prosecute (or extradite) individual terrorists. In no conceivable circumstances, and whatever the presumed expectations of religious faith, are states permitted to identify terrorist “martyrs” as “freedom fighters.”

               In law, we have seen, rights can never stem from wrongs.[20] Even if certain populations continue to insist on treating the most recalcitrant jihadist insurgents as “martyrs,” such treatment can have no exculpatory or mitigating effect on punishing attendant terror-crimes. Despite any alleged justness of cause, and this includes frequently-cited Palestinian references to “sovereignty” and “self-determination,” nothing in international law can justify the deliberate targeting of non-combatant Israeli populations.[21]

                There are certain notable jurisprudential ironies. During the last Gaza War, such targeting killed and injured not only Palestinians working in Israel, but also Thai agricultural laborers whose only reason for working in Israel was to support indigent families back home. “Credo quia absurdum,” said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.”

                Several years back, Mohammed Deif, then leader of Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, summed up his organization’s raison d’etre: “Our soldiers yearn for death, the way the Zionist soldiers yearn for life.” Though this succinct summary was more than just a bit misleading – after all, Hamas terrorists “yearn for death” only because they associate “martyrdom” with personal immortality – a consuming ambiance of death is still their preferred geostrategic orientation.[22]

Palestinian Insurgency Beginnings

                In some ways, at least for Hamas and other Palestinian insurgents,[23] those earlier days represent a sort of Dickensian “best of times.” Then, under a more broadly welcoming insurgent canopy, Palestinian “diversity” was able to emerge and strengthen. At that moment, even atheistic and Marxist elements were allowed to make some collaborative cause with Islamists, a phenomenon that would be unheard of today.

               There is more. Then, in deference to variously fundamental emphases on operational collaboration, no particular ideology was encouraged to become a singularly hegemonic orientation. This apparent largesse was evident even inside Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the umbrella terror group first formed in 1964. That seminal formation took place three years prior to the Six Day War; this means three years before there were any “Israel Occupied Territories.”

               What exactly was the PLO seeking to “liberate” during those years? This is not a difficult question. The answer was and remains all of Israel, the entire micro-state that is still identified on both Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas maps as “Occupied Palestine.”.

               Now, after America’s defeat in Afghanistan, only identifiable Jihadists – those who are properly versed in Ribat (religious conflict fighting for “Islamic land”) – will be invited to participate in the Jihadist’s “divinely-mandated” armed struggle. Overall, the Palestinian fight will continue to change from being a preeminently secular and tactical conflict to one that may wittingly ignore all more ordinary and usual strategic/legal imperatives. Still, this all-consuming “struggle” remains founded upon unwavering commitments to “sacred violence.”  At its conceptual heart, such struggle reveals present-day expressions of “religious sacrifice.”[24]

Violence and the Sacred

                For the Palestinian terror movement against Israel, violence and the sacred remain deeply interpenetrating and inherently inseparable. Though it maintains various more-or-less legitimate claims of “self-determination,” religious sacrifice is what Jihadi Palestinian insurgency is ultimately all about. To finally understand this key point represents a sine qua non of successful counter-terrorism. Without a deeper understanding of such primal content, neither Israel nor the United States could ever mount systematically effective counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East or North Africa.

               Foundational links between religious sacrifice and violent insurgency have a long and potentially instructive history. To acknowledge and gain useful insight from this chronology, planners and policy-makers may look back to ancient Greece, specifically, to Plutarch. Ideas of Palestinian-Islamic religious sacrifice are ferociously adversarial and explicitly Islamist, but they are not unprecedented.

                The first century biographer’s Sayings of Spartan Mothers can speak to current issues. Plutarch recognizes the honorable female parent as one who deliberately rears her sons for civic sacrifice. Always, such a venerated Greek mother was relieved to learn that her son had died “in a manner worthy of his self, his country and his ancestors.” On the other hand, “unworthy” Spartan sons who failed to live up to this enviably bold standard of sacrifice were singled out for severe reprimand, and extensive public humiliation.

               One woman, we may learn from Plutarch, whose son had been the sole survivor of a disastrous military engagement, killed him brutally with a tile. Culturally, it seems, this killing was the only fitting punishment for the son’s unpardonable cowardice. Later, the eighteenth-century Swiss (Genevan) philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, citing to Plutarch, described another citizen-mother’s tale as follows: “A Spartan woman had five sons in the army and was awaiting news of the battle.  A Helot (slave) arrives trembling; she asks him for the news. `Your five sons were killed.’  `Base slave, did I ask you that?’ The slave responds: `We won the victory.’  The mother runs to the temple, and gives enthusiastic thanks to the gods.”  

                There are serious lessons here for both Israel and the United States. Even now, and plausibly more so after Afghanistan, it is impossible to deny that the deepest roots of Jihadist terror originate from cultures that display similar views of religious sacrifice. Always, the key purpose of such ritualistic violence extends beyond any presumed expectations of civic necessity. Always, this rationale goes directly to the heart of individual human fear; that is, to the palpable font of existential dread.[25]

               Though bitterly ironic, any such primal fear of death is linked with martyr-centered terrorism, even today. For Palestinian terrorists, there are multiple accepted paths to immortality. Back in 2009, Palestinian-American terrorist, U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan, actively sought the death sentence for his murder spree at Fort Hood back on November 5 of that year. Per his explanation in open court, “If I die by lethal injection, I would still be a martyr.”

               What could be clearer? What earthly promise could possibly be more gratifying to this mass killer than a religiously pledged conferral of eternal life? Significant connections between existential dread and Jihadi terrorism are conspicuous and potentially insidious.

               At his or her existential core, the Hamas fighter is not primarily interested in land or equality or justice. This terrorist wittingly kills himself or herself, together with various innocent others, to ensure a personal life that will literally never end. Accordingly, the so-called “death” that he or she actually expects to suffer in consequence of this “sacrificial “suicide” is really nothing more than a momentary inconvenience. In the final tally, it represents just a vaguely minor distraction.

               In such matters, truth may emerge through paradox. Hamas and otherPalestinian “martyrs” kill themselves as “suicides” in order not to die. There is no more central truth to Jihadi terror that is so consistently ignored or widely misunderstood.

               There is more. While seemingly irrational, the Jihadi martyr, the Shahid, can still calculate rationally that his/her intended suicide will be “cost-effective. This hero-fighter, after all, is embarked on what is presumed to be a divinely-guided trajectory. He/she has chosen a gloriously fiery path to life immortality. For him or her, there can be no more perfect path.

Martyrdom and Jihad

               In Islam, “martyrdom” has always been closely associated with Jihad. Unequivocal and celebratory invocations for such sacrificial killing can be found in the Koran (9:111) and, more explicitly, in the canonical hadith. “Do not consider those who are slain in the cause of Allah as dead,” instructs the Koran, “for they are living by their Lord.” For Hamas, such obligatory aspects of sacrificial terror ought never be overlooked by Israel or the United States. The two-sided nature of terror/sacrifice – the sacrifice of the victim and reciprocal death of “the Martyr” – is codified in the Charter of Hamas:  “The Palestinian problem is a religious one, to be dealt with on this premise…`I swear by that (sic.) who holds in His Hands, the Soul of Muhammad! I indeed wish to go to war for the sake of Allah! I will assault and kill, assault and kill, assault and kill.’”

               Today, post-Afghanistan implications of this Islamist decisional calculus warrant intensive study in both Jerusalem and Washington. Convinced that Shahada (“Death for Allah”) violence against the Israel will lead to a glorious martyrdom, the true Jihadist can never be effectively deterred solely by ordinary threats of armed reprisal. Among other pertinent ironies, such one-dimensiomnal threats could sometimes become an incentive to additional and/or enlarged terrorism.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.”

                For Israel, especially after Afghanistan, there exists no expectedly tolerable “Two-State Solution.” For the most part, the Islamic world recognizes only one state in this tiny part of the Middle East, and this state is not Israel. On 29 November 2012, the UN General Assembly upgraded the Palestinian Authority’s formal status to Nonmember Observer State,  This upgrade allows “Palestine” to bring complaints against Israelis before the International Criminal Court (ICC), but not as a state.[26]

               In specifically juridical terms, Palestine has limited “legal personality,” but not as a fully sovereign state.

                Israel and its Islamist terrorist enemies maintain very different orientations to “peace.” This stark asymmetry puts Israel at a disadvantage in virtually any “peace process.” While Israel’s Islamist enemies dutifully manifest their “positive” expectations for immortality, individual and collective, via the doctrinal slaughter of “heathen,” Israel’s leaders flatly reject their foes’ faith-based and annihilatory decisional calculus.

                Among other relevant perils, Israel now confronts a real and still-expanding threat of both unconventional war and unconventional terrorism.  Faced with opponents who are not only willing to die, but who actively seek their own ecstatic “deaths,” Jerusalem should better understand the critical operational limits of ordinary warfare, national homeland defense and “mainstream” strategic deterrence. In the end, power over death could trump every tangible form of power, including forms that are based upon aircraft carriers, missiles or technologically advanced weapon systems. The core cause of this expectation lies at the heart of what it means to be human.

                In all world politics, any deeply felt promise of immortality must be of distinctly “transcendent importance.”[27]This signifies, among other things, that the primary Israeli/American  orientation to wage prudent battle in counter-terrorism operations should focus on “mind over mind,” and not just “mind over matter.” Whenever insurgent enemies assign absolute primacy to the words “I believe,” it should be a signal to Jerusalem that the best Israeli response must be undertaken at a recognizably intellectual level.[28] Though intangible and not easily understood by ordinary politicians or planners, an enemy search for power over death could sometimes prove decisive,  overriding even the perils of ordinary military harms.

Quo Vadis

               What next? To dismiss such a distressingly complex reality will be tempting for Israel and also the United States, but such blithe dismissal could prove catastrophic.[29] When a determined enemy is driven by presumptively existential notions of “I believe,”[30] the aggregated arsenal of plausible counter-measures must become correspondingly flexible. This compelling analytic imperative would become even more obvious should that enemy become endowed (directly or indirectly) with nuclear[31] or other weapons of mass-destruction.[32]

               In the longer term, after Afghanistan, Israeli and US strategic policy planners should bear in mind that acts of nuclear terrorism need not require authentic nuclear weapons;  they could involve “only” conventional rocket attacks on Israel’s Dimona reactor.[33] In the final analysis, Israeli and American  deterrence postures will have to function as a seamless web,[34] allowing decision-makers to choose rationally from an already-available range of cost-effective policy options.

               Such fateful choice could sometime concern insurgent foes who seek not “merely’ sovereignty and self-determination,[35] but also “power over death.”

Summing Up: Perils and Remedies

               For Israel and the United States, the current Jihadi terrorist danger lies at two discrete but still interrelated levels. First, it exists at the level of the individual Islamist individual, the “chosen one” who seeks “martyrdom” through a deliberate path of insurgent violence. Second, it exists at the level of Islamist states, sovereign-actors which may sometime decide to represent, in institutionalized macrocosm, certain human “self-sacrificers.”

               Someday, and more-or-less plausibly, these states may choose collective “self-sacrifice” through the initiation of chemical, biological or nuclear war.  Such a conflict might be fought not for any traditional military reasons, but instead for the “liquidation” of “infidels.” On its face, any such grim determination would represent the unholiest of possible “marriages” between aggressive war and genocide, two mega-crimes identified under codified and customary international law.[36] In any such conflict, the defining Jihadist playbook would not be the classical military theories of Sun-Tzu or von Clausewitz, but rather the presumptively gratuitous destructiveness of de Sade.

               The root problem to understand here is Jihadistdeath fear, and the consequent dread-based compulsion to sacrifice variously despised “others.” This compulsion, in turn, stems from a widespread and doctrinal Islamist belief that killing unbelievers and being killed by unbelievers represents the most direct path to personal immortality. In very briefest summation, Jihadist terrorist unwillingness to accept personal death may lead to the killing of “others” in order to escape this presumptively unbearable fate.

                For many Islamist terrorist enemies, both individuals and states, killing Jews and “crusaders” offers optimal “immunization” against personal death and disintegration. Conceptualized in expressly psychological categories of analysis, the death fear of the Islamist enemy “ego” is lessened by the killing, the sacrifice, of the “other.” Among psychologists and sociologists,, this complex idea was famously captured by Ernest Becker’s vivid paraphrase of Elias Canetti: “Each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.”[37]

               There is more. The Jihadist enemies of Israel and the United States do not intend to do evil.[38]  Rather, they commit to the killing of Jews, Americans and other “infidels” with undisguised religious conviction, with limitless “purity of heart.” Perversely “sanctified” killers, these relentless enemies will continue to generate an incessant search for more and more victims. Though mired in blood, this terrorizing search will usually remain tranquil and self-assured for the perpetrators, a twisted disposition born of conspicuous self-delusion. This is that the terrorist violence against “unbelievers” is properly “sacrificial.”

               It is never infamous or shameful.

Confronting a Hydra

               Not merely by accident, the military wing of Fatah, allegedly the more moderate and secular exponent of Palestinian terror, is named the Al-Aqsa MartyrsBrigade. In roughly the same fashion as Palestinian Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah’s “Brigade” remains oriented toward more than “armed struggle.” It remains dedicated to certain coinciding principles of religious sacrifice. This all-consuming commitment promises its followers not just military victory over the “Zionist occupiers” and their American patrons, but immunity from death.

               By definition, these are incomparably potent promises.

               Palestinian terrorism is prospectively more dangerous today, after Afghanistan, than it was previously. In Israel’s early days, there werealready Fedayeen (“self-sacrificers”) adversaries, but their dominant motives were explicitly nationalistic and only derivatively “Islamic.” Today, Jerusalem must learn to think in terms of “desacralizing” this relentless adversary, of convincing Jihadists that the ritualized murders of “Jews” or “Zionists” will lead not to any promised paradise, but to insufferable “terrors of the grave.” Above all else, this counter-terrorist effort must become an intellectual task, not just a narrowly political or propagandistic one.

               Now there are associated operational questions. To wit, should Israel and the United States continue to target Jihadist terrorist leaders, a controversial strategy of political killing that could arguably preclude any need for wider wars? While the benefits of getting rid of specific terrorist masterminds without mounting any full-scale war are temptingly meaningful and perhaps even self-evident, it is also true that the Jihadi terror threat now confronting Israel and the United States resembles the mythic Hydra. This creature was a monster of many heads, one which was impossible to kill. Each time a single head was “successfully” excised by Hercules, as analysts may recall, two new ones grew in its place.

               For Israel and America, this is not an encouraging metaphor.

               There are also some wider lessons to acknowledge. In world politics and international law, the ultimate acquisition of power is never really about land or treasure or conquest or some other traditionally reassuring evidence of national primacy. Rather, it is presumed victory over death, a personal triumph associated by German philosopher Heinrich von Treitschke with the always-special prerogatives of national sovereignty.[39]

               Though contrived, the relevant reasoning here is nonetheless straightforward. When my state is powerful, goes the basic argument, so too am I. At some point, moreover, when my state seems ready to prevail and to prevail indefinitely, I too am granted a personal life that will be gloriously unending. Stated more succinctly: An “immortal” state creates (either as citizen or subject) the “immortal” person.[40]

In a world that always craves simple explanations, such abstract ideas can prove bewildering for scholars and decision-makers.  Still, to decipher such causal notions at a meaningful level, analysts could do well to recall certain familiar images of mid-1930s Nazi party rallies at Nuremberg. Leni Riefenstahl’s monumental film celebration of Der Fuhrer, The Triumph of the Will, may say it best. Reminding the German people of philosopher Hegel’s famous aphorism, the legendary film underscores something of prospectively incomparable insight:

An individual nation-state can become much more than a mere juristic person.

 It can become the “march of God in the world.”

Looking ahead, in a warning apt to both Jerusalem and Washington,  Islamist terrorist strategies will fare best whenever it can be made persuasive to Jihadists that “God is on our side.”[41]

Final Strategies

               Some final questions surface. In the dissembling aftermath of Afghanistan, what is the best overall counter-terrorist strategy for Israel and the United States? To begin, Israeli and American strategic/ intelligence communities will need to identify new and more promising ways of deterring non-rational adversaries.[42]

               Simultaneously, especially as Palestinian statehood may now more likely be validated by variously steady increments of recognition in the U.N. General Assembly, these communities will need to avoid a potentially lethal fallacy. This is the probable error of accepting Palestinian statehood on the strength of ostensibly binding assurances to “demilitarize.” [43] To be sure, no international legal agreements can be self-enforcing.

               Though former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had cited Palestinian demilitarization as a condition of negotiating Palestinian statehood (a citation presented as evidence of his particular foresight and prudence), it could never actually have had such an intended effect. Jurisprudentially, at least, the reason for such doubt is clear and essentially incontestable: Every state maintains an “inherent” right of self-defense.[44] This “peremptory”prerogative can never be casually challenged or taken away. This truth obtains even if the new state itself should explicitly agree to certain firm limitations on its “jus cogens” right.[45]

                By ignoring core roots of Jihadi terrorism, Middle East peace programs could continuously detour Israel and the United States with starkly contrived “Two-State Solutions.” Should Israeli Prime Minister Bennet yield to any assorted pressures exerted by Jihadist terrorist patron states, he will have overlooked or underestimated the doctrinal origins of Israel’s most recalcitrant enemies. Should he choose, instead, to reject such dangerous pressures, the Prime Minister will have understood that Israel’s ongoing struggles with Palestinian terrorism have always been about much more than “land,” “settlements,” or “self-determination.”[46]

               For Israel – now facing a more determined struggle for Palestinian statehood after the conclusive US defeat in Afghanistan – this key fact can be disregarded only at considerable collective peril. Looking ahead, should Jerusalem commit various critical errors in securing itself against Iran and “Palestine” simultaneously (these complex perils are both mutually reinforcing and force-multiplying[47]), the consequences would also reverberate in the United States.[48] Although an immortal person is a “contradiction in terms,”[49] the Jihadi terrorist still presumes that a protracted “holy war” against Israel, America and other enemy states can confer power over death.

               In essence, therefore, what these Jihadists so enthusiastically embrace is “murderous immortalities.”


[1] In commending the Taliban on August 17, 2021, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh observed: “The demise of the US occupation of Afghanistan is a prelude to the demise of the Israeli occupation of the land of Palestine.” See “The Taliban’s Palestinian Partners: Implications for the Middle East Peace Process,” a report of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, No. 652, September 5, 2021.

[2] International law remains a “Westphalian” or “vigilante” system. Reference here is to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War and created the now still-existing decentralized or self-help state system of world politics. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[3] For a discussion of authoritative criteria to distinguish permissible insurgencies from impermissible ones, see: Louis René Beres, “The Legal Meaning of Terrorism for the Military Commander,” CONNECTICUT JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 11., No. 1., Fall 1995, pp. 1-27

[4] See earlier, by this writer: Louis René Beres, https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2021/05/19/justice-insurgency-and-the-gaza-war-an-international-law-perspective/

[5] According to the rules of international law, every use of force must be judged twice:  once with regard to the right to wage war (jus ad bellum), and once with regard to the means used in conducting war (jus in bello).  Today, in the aftermath of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, and the United Nations Charter, all right to aggressive war has been abolished.  However, the long-standing customary right of self-defense remains, codified at Article 51 of the Charter.  Similarly, subject to conformance, inter alia, with jus in bello criteria, certain instances of humanitarian intervention and collective security operations may also be consistent with jus ad bellum.  The laws of war, the rules of jus in bello, comprise (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules.  Codified primarily at The Hague and Geneva Conventions (and known thereby as the law of The Hague and the law of Geneva), these rules attempt to bring considerations of discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into belligerent calculations.

[6] According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a treaty is always an international agreement “concluded between States….” See Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969, 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M., 679 (1969).

[7] The law of armed conflict is largely concerned with the principle of proportionality, which has its jurisprudential and philosophic origins in the Biblical Lex Talionis, the law of exact retaliation. The “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” can be found in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah, or Biblical Pentateuch. These Torah rules are likely related to the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1728- expression 1686 BCE) – the first written evidence of penalizing wrongdoing with exact retaliation. In matters concerning personal injury, the code prescribes an eye for an eye (# 196), breaking bone for bone (#197), and extracting tooth for tooth (#199). Among the ancient Hebrews, we must speak not of the Lex Talionis, but of several. The Lex Talionis appears in only three passages of the Torah. In their sequence of probable antiquity, they are as follows: Exodus 21: 22-25; Deuteronomy 19: 19-21; and Leviticus 24: 17-21. All have similarities to various other Near Eastern legal codes. These three passages address specific concerns: hurting a pregnant woman, perjury, and guarding Yahweh’s altar against defilement. See Marvin Henberg, Retribution: Evil for Evil in Ethics, Law and Literature, 59-186 (1990). In contemporary international law, the principle of proportionality can be found in the traditional view that a state offended by another state’s use of force, if the offending state refuses to make amends, “is then entitled to take `proportionate’ reprisals.” See Ingrid Detter De Lupis, The Law of War, 75 (1987). Evidence for the rule of proportionality can also be found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) at Art. 4. Similarly, the American Convention on Human Rights allows at Art. 27(1) such derogations “in time of war, public danger or other emergency which threaten the independence or security of a party” on “condition of proportionality.” The military principle of proportionality requires that the amount of destruction permitted must be proportionate to the importance of the objective. In contrast, the political principle of proportionality states “a war cannot be just unless the evil that can reasonably be expected to ensure from the war is less than the evil that can reasonably be expected to ensue if the war is not fought.” See Douglas P. Lackey, THE ETHICS OF WAR A ND PEACE, 40 (1989).

[8] The principle of military necessity is defined authoritatively as follows: “Only that degree and kind of force, not otherwise prohibited by the law of armed conflict, required for the partial or complete submission of the enemy with a minimum expenditure of time, life and physical resources may be applied.” ADAM ROBERTS & RICHARD GUELFF, DOCUMENTS ON THE LAWS OF WAR 10 (3rd ed. 2000) (quoting U.S. DEP’T OF THE NAVY ET AL., THE COMMANDER’S HANDBOOK ON THE LAW OF NAVAL OPERATIONS, NWP 1-14M, 6.2.6.4.2, (July 2007)). The term “military necessity” is found, inter alia, in the 1946 Judgment of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg: Extracts on Crimes Against International Law, in ADAM ROBERTS & RICHARD GUELFF, DOCUMENTS ON THE LAWS OF WAR 155 (1989). 

[9] The US Neutrality Act, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 960 (originally Sec. 25) (1794) was enacted in order for the new American republic to implement the Law of Nations. Pertinent Congressional authority derived specifically from article 1, Section 8, clause 10 of the U.S. Constitution. See also Talbot v. Jansen, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 133, 156 (1795) (Paterson, J).

[10] Specific applications of the law of war to insurgents (non-state combatants) dates to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. As more than codified treaties and conventions must comprise the law of war, it is plain that the obligations of jus in bello (justice in war) are part of “the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations” (from Art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice) and thereby bind all categories of belligerents. (See Statute of the International Court of Justice, art. 38, June 29, 1945, 59 Stat. 1031, T.S. 993).  Further, Hague Convention IV of 1907 declares that even in the absence of a precisely published set of guidelines regarding “unforeseen cases,” the operative pre-conventional sources of humanitarian international law obtain and still govern all belligerency. The related Martens Clause is included in the Preamble of the 1899 Hague Conventions, International Convention with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War by Land, July 29, 1899, 187 Consol. T.S. 429, 430.

[11] Under international law, terrorist movements are always Hostes humani generis, or “Common enemies of mankind.” See: Research in International Law: Draft Convention on Jurisdiction with Respect to Crime, 29 AM J. INT’L L. (Supp 1935) 435, 566 (quoting King v. Marsh (1615), 3 Bulstr. 27, 81 Eng. Rep 23 (1615) (“a pirate est Hostes humani generis”)).

[12] Ex injuria jus non oritur.

[13] The criminal responsibility of leaders under international law is not limited to direct personal action or to official position.  On the pertinent principle of command responsibility, or respondeat superior, see:  In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 (1945); The High Command Case (The Trial of Wilhelm von Leeb), 12 LAW REPORTS OF TRIALS OF WAR CRIMINALS 1 (United Nations War Crimes Commission Comp., 1949); see Parks, COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY FOR WAR CRIMES, 62 MIL.L. REV. 1 (1973); O’Brien, THE LAW OF WAR, COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY AND VIETNAM, 60 GEO. L.J.  605 (1972); U S DEPT OF THE ARMY, ARMY SUBJECT SCHEDULE No. 27 – 1 (Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Hague Convention No. IV of 1907), 10 (1970).  The direct individual responsibility of leaders is also unambiguous in view of the London Agreement, which denies defendants the protection of the act of state defense.  See AGREEMENT FOR THE PROSECUTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS OF THE EUROPEAN AXIS, Aug. 8, 1945, 59 Stat.  1544, E.A.S.  No.472, 82 U.N.T.S.  279, art.

[14] This right must always be understood in terms of the continuously decentralized system of international law bequeathed at Westphalia in 1648. See: op cit., Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[15] According to Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: “…a peremptory norm of general international law is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M.  679 (1969).

[16] The primal importance of reason to legal judgment was prefigured in ancient Israel.  Jewish theories of law, insofar as they display influences of Natural Law, offer a transcending order revealed by the divine word as interpreted by human reason.  In the words of Ecclesiastics 32.23, 37.16, 13-14:  “Let reason go before every enterprise and counsel before any action…And let the counsel of thine own heart stand…For a man’s mind is sometimes wont to tell him more than seven watchmen that sit above in a high tower….”

[17] Under international law, the question of whether or not a “state of war” exists between states is generally ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a formal declaration of war was necessary before a true state of war could be said to exist. Hugo Grotius even divided wars into declared wars, which were legal, and undeclared wars, which were not. (See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Bk. III, Chas. III, IV, and XI.) By the start of the twentieth century, the position that war obtains only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated that hostilities must never commence without a “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum. (See Hague Convention III Relative to the Opening of Hostilities, 1907, 3 NRGT, 3 series, 437, article 1.) Currently, declarations of war may be tantamount to admissions of international criminality, because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law, and it could therefore represent a clear jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to formal and prior declarations of belligerency. It follows that a state of war may now exist without any formal declarations, but only if there exists an actual armed conflict between two or more states, and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself “at war.”

[18]Underlying these common standards is a unifying concept of human “oneness.”  The history of western philosophy and jurisprudence contains many illustrious examples of such welcome cosmopolitanism. Most notable are Voltaire and Goethe. We need only recall Voltaire’s biting satire in the early chapters of Candide and Goethe’s oft-repeated comment linking the contrived hatreds of belligerent nationalism to declining stages of human civilization. We may also note Samuel Johnson’s famously expressed conviction that patriotism “is the last refuge of a scoundrel;” William Lloyd Garrison’s observation that “We cannot acknowledge allegiance to any human government…. Our country is the world, our countryman is all mankind;” and Thorsten Veblen (“The patriotic spirit is at cross-purposes with modern life.”) Of course, there are similar sentiments discoverable in Nietzsche’s Human, all too Human and in Fichte’s Die Grundzűge des gegenwartigen Zeitalters.” Finally, let the reader recall Santayana’s coalescing remark in Reason and Society: “A man’s feet must be planted in his country, but his eyes should survey the world.” The ultimate point of all these cosmopolitan remarks is that narrow-minded patriotism is inevitably “unpatriotic,” at least in the sense that it is not in the genuine long-term interests of citizens or subjects.

[19].The term “Grave Breaches” applies to certain serious infractions of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocol I of 1977. The actions defined, as “Grave Breaches” in the four Conventions must be performed willfully or intentionally, and against the different groups of “protected person” identified by each Convention. The High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions are under obligation “to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing, or ordering to be committed,” a grave breach of the Convention. As defined at Art. 147 of Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (6 U.S.T. 3516, signed on Aug. 12 1949, at Geneva), Grave Breaches  “shall be those involving any of the following acts, if committed against persons or property protected by the present Convention:  willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power, or willfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in the present Convention, taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. Reference to Grave Breaches can also be found in the INTERIM REPORT OF THE COMMISSION OF EXPERTS, UNITED NATIONS DOCUMENT, S/25274, and January 2, 1993, at Sec. 3., Art. 47.

[20] Op Cit, Ex injuria jus non oritur.

[21]Some supporters of a Palestinian state argue that its prospective harms to Israel could be reduced or eliminated by ensuring the new Arab state’s immediate “demilitarization.” For informed reasoning against this argument, see: Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why a Demilitarized Palestinian State Would Not Remain Demilitarized: A View Under International Law,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, Winter 1998, pp. 347-363; and Louis René Beres and Ambassador Shoval, “On Demilitarizing a Palestinian `Entity’ and the Golan Heights: An International Law Perspective,” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vo. 28., No.5., November 1995, pp. 959-972.

[22] In science-based studies of world politics, rationality and irrationality have now taken on very precise meanings. In this regard, a state or terror group is presumed to be rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival/group survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of preferences. Conversely, an irrational state or terror group is one that would not always display such a markedly specific preference ordering. On pragmatic or operational grounds, ascertaining whether a particular state adversary such as Iran would be rational or irrational could become a problematic and daunting task. Regarding Jihadi terror groups, on the other hand, it is plain by definition that they are inherently prone to irrational decision-making.

[23] Israel must now be increasingly wary that Hamas could move forcefully against PA in the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) and render that territory similar to Gaza. See, on this cautionary note, Ehud Eilam: https://www.jpost.com/opinion/dont-allow-israels-west-bank-to-become-afghanistan-opinion-679073

[24] For a classic scholarly book with this revealing title: See: René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (1977).

[25] In the Middle East, where theological doctrine divides into the dar al-Islam (world of Islam) and the dar al-harb (world of war), acts of terror against unbelievers have generally been accepted as expressions of sacredness. In turn, individual sacrifice derives, in large part, from a very conspicuously hoped-for power over death. By adopting atavistic practice, the Jihadist terrorist expects to realize an otherwise unattainable immortality. For Hamas, which seeks secular power as a new sovereign state of Palestine, certain obligatory aspects of sacrificial terror must never be overlooked. These aspects, underscoring the two-sided nature of terror/sacrifice – that is, the sacrifice of “The Unbeliever” (or “Apostate”) and reciprocal sacrifice of “The Martyr” – is codified within the Charter of Hamas as a “religious” problem.” For authoritative details of the Hamas Charter, see:  Louis René Beres: https://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/jil/vol39/iss3/2/

[26] See: Louis René Beres (Israel): https://besacenter.org/israel-palestine-threat/

[27] See Alfred North Whitehead’s Religion in the Making (1926).

[28] In prophetic words of poet Guillaume Apollinaire (The New Spirit and the Poets, 1917): “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”

[29] This brings to mind the closing query of Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Aeschylus: “Where will it end? When will it all be lulled back into sleep, and cease, the bloody hatreds, the destruction”?

[30] “`I believe,'” says Oswald Spengler, “is the great word against metaphysical fear, and at the same time it is an avowal of love.'” See: The Decline of the West, Spengler’s Chapter on “Pythagoras, Mohammed, Cromwell.”

[31]No state, including Israel, is under any per se legal obligation to renounce access to nuclear weapons; in certain distinctly residual circumstances, moreover, even the actual resort to such weapons could be construed as lawful. See generally The Legality of the Threat or Use of Force of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, 1997 I.C.J. (July 8). The final paragraph of this Opinion, concludes, inter alia: “The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”

[32] For earlier looks at the expected consequences of specifically nuclear attacks, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1986). 

[33]Hamas fired rockets at Dimona back in 2014. Earlier, Saddam Hussein launched Scud-B rockets toward Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.  For an early and informed consideration of reactor attack effects, see:  Bennett Ramberg, Destruction of Nuclear Energy Facilities in War (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1980); and Bennett Ramberg, “Attacks on Nuclear Reactors: The Implications of Israel’s Strike on Osiraq,” Political Science Quarterly, Winter 1982-83; pp. 653 – 669. More recently, see: Bennett Ramberg, “Should Israel Close Dimona? The Radiological Consequences of a Military Strike on Israel’s Plutonium-Production Reactor,”Arms Control Today,May 2008, pp. 6-13.

[34]See, by this author and former Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval, at West Point, Pentagon: https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/

[35]On this choice, ancient philosophy can be helpful. More precisely, Plato’s theory, offered in the fourth century B.C.E, seeks to explain all political choice in terms of epiphenomena, an unstable realm of half-truths and distorted perceptions.  In contrast to the uniformly stable realm of immaterial Forms, a realm from which all genuine knowledge must be derived, the political arena is dominated by myriad contradictions of the reflected world, contradictions that inevitably fail to account for “metaphysical fear.”

[36] Article 38(1)(b) of the STATUTE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE describes international custom as “evidence of a general practice accepted as law.” The essential significance of any norm’s customary character is that the norms bind even those states that are not parties to the pertinent codification. Even where a customary norm and a norm restated in treaty form are apparently identical, these norms are treated as jurisprudentially discrete. During the merits phase of MILITARY AND PARAMILITARY ACTIVITIES IN AND AGAINST NICARAGUA, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) stated: “Even if two norms belonging to two sources of international law appear identical in content, and even if the States in question are bound by these rules both on the level of treaty-law and on that of customary international law, these norms retain a separate existence.” See: MILITARY AND PARAMILITARY ACTIVITIES IN AND AGAINST NICARAGUA, Nicar. V. US., Merits, 1986 ICJ, Rep. 14 (Judgment of 27 June).

[37] See Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil (1975).

[38] In this connection, for relevant generic understandings, see Michael Polanyi’s discussion of the “moral appeal of immorality” in the philosopher’s Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (1958).

[39] See Louis René Beres, “Self-Determination, International Law and Survival on Planet Earth,” Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 11, No.1., pp. 1-26. On these special prerogatives, see also French political theorist Bertrand de Jouvenal, Sovereignty: An Inquiry into the Political Good (The University of Chicago Press, 1957).

[40] In scientific terms, of course, such “logic” is literal nonsense. Apropos of this point, see: Emmanuel Levinas, “An immortal person is a contradiction in terms.”  (God, Death and Time; 2000).

[41]Through the ages, with “God on our Side,” conflicting states and religions have asserted that personal immortality can sometimes be achieved at the sacrificial expense of certain despised “others,” of “heathen,” “blasphemers,” “apostates.” When he painted The Triumph of Death in 1562, Peter Bruegel drew upon his direct personal experience with both religious war and disease plague.  In the sixteenth century, he already understood that any intersection of these horrors (one man-made, the other natural) could be ill-fated, force-multiplying and even synergistic. This last term describes results wherein the “whole” calculable outcome exceeds the sum of all constituent “parts.”

[42] This post-Afghanistan strategic imperative extends to assorted state enemies of Israel, especially a potentially nuclear Iran. See, in this connection, Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely deter a Nuclear Iran? The Atlantic, August 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel; and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012. General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[43] See, op cit., Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why a Demilitarized Palestinian State Would Not Remain Demilitarized: A View Under International Law,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, Winter 1998, pp. 347-363; and Louis René Beres and Ambassador Shoval, “On Demilitarizing a Palestinian `Entity’ and the Golan Heights: An International Law Perspective,” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vo. 28., No.5., November 1995, pp. 959-972.

[44] In principle, this right may extend to defensive first-strikes or preemption. The origins of the right to anticipatory self-defense in international law lie in customary law, in the Caroline. This was a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally justified certain militarily defensive actions. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require an antecedent attack. Here, the jurisprudential framework permitted a military response to a threat so long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” See: Beth M. Polebaum, “National Self-defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 187, 190-91 (1984) (noting that the Caroline case had transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a legal doctrine). Still earlier, see: Hugo Grotius, Of the Causes of War, and First of Self-Defense, and Defense of Our Property, reprinted in 2 Classics of International Law, 168-75 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1925) (1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1916) (1758). Also, Samuel Pufendorf, The Two Books on the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law, 32 (Frank Gardner Moore., tr., 1927 (1682).

[45]This also a “Higher Law” or “Natural Law” principle. In his DE OFFICIIS, Cicero wrote:  “There is in fact a true law namely right reason, which is in accordance with nature, applies to all men and is unchangeable and eternal…. It will not lay down one rule at Rome and another at Athens, nor will it be one rule today and another tomorrow.  But there will be one law eternal and unchangeable binding at all times and upon all peoples.”  See also DE LEGIBUS, Bk. i, c, vii.  Blackstone’s COMMENTARIES expressly recognize that all law “results from those principles of natural justice, in which all the learned of every nation agree….”  See William Blackstone, COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND, adapted by Robert Malcolm Kerr (Boston; Beacon Press, 1962), Book IV, “Of Public Wrongs,” p. 62 (Chapter V., “Of Offenses Against the Law of Nations.”). Thomas Aquinas recalls Augustine as follows:  “St. Augustine says: `There is no law unless it be just.’ So the validity of law depends upon its justice.  But in human affairs a thing is said to be just when it accords aright with the rule of reason: and as we have already seen, the first rule of reason is the Natural Law.  Thus all humanly enacted laws are in accord with reason to the extent that they derive from the Natural law.  And if a human law is at variance in any particular with the Natural law, it is no longer legal, but rather a corruption of law.” See SUMMA THEOLOGICA, 1a 2ae, 95, 2; cited by D’ Entreves, supra, pp. 42 – 43

[46] Philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset had understood these superficially political issues at much deeper and generic levels. Ultimately, the seminal Spanish thinker understood, these issues have been about the continuous human struggle against death. Always, therefore, they have been about God and personal immortality.

[47] This notion of “force-multiplying” resembles the concept of “synergy,” an interaction or intersection whereby the resultant “whole” is always greater than the additive sum of its “parts.”

[48] More specifically, Israel’s nuclear strategy could have certain meaningful implications for U.S. national security. On these generally ignored connections, see Louis René Beres and (General/USA/ret.) Barry McCaffrey, ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY AND AMERICA’S NATIONAL SECURITY, Tel-Aviv University and Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, Tel-Aviv, December 2016: https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf

[49] See epigraph, above, by philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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International Law

Omicron and Vaccine Nationalism: How Rich Countries Have Contributed to Pandemic’s Longevity

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In a global pandemic, “Nobody is safe until everyone is safe”, – it is more of true with respect to the current globalized world system. It is said that crisis strikes the conscience and forces the ‘commonality of purpose’ on one another- and a major one in magnanimous scale. But the current Covid-19 crisis seems to have emerged in oddity with this very axiom, of course, due to self-serving, in WHO’s words- ‘self-defeating’ and ‘immoral’, approaches to dealing the pandemic by wealthy countries.

 A new and potentially more transmissible variant of Covid-19 virus, named Omicron by WHO, has been detected in South Africa. With scientists yet to be confirmed about new variant’s epicenter and its likely implication on human immune system, the emergence of Omicron has brought the long-warned case of ‘vaccine nationalism’– a phenomenon in which each nation prioritizes securing ample doses without considering impact on poor ones- to light.

Unheeded to the repeated warnings by scientists and pandemic specialists, many of the world’s richest countries had embarked on a vaccine-acquisition frenzy and hoarded jabs more than their requirements. Some countries have even gone to the extent that they had acquired up to four times what their population needed. Thereby, it has left majority of poor and developing countries, particularly those in global south, unvaccinated, with further risk of the virus being muted into more virulent variants, as in the case of Omicron.

A simple numerical data over vaccination rate across the world exposes the grotesques picture of pandemic recovery divide among the countries and immoral hoarding and hedging efforts on vaccine supplies by wealthy countries. As of now, whereas only 3% of people in low income countries have fully been vaccinated, the figure exceeds 60% in both high-income and upper-middle –income countries. In Africa, the most under-vaccinated and the epicenter of ominous Omicron, only some 7% of its 1.3 billion people are fully immunized.

Given the 9.1bn vaccines already manufactured and 12bn expected by the end of this year, the question is- why does vaccination effort remain so discriminatory and dividing across the regions? The answer, in most part, lies in the ‘pervasive economic inequity’ inherent in initial vaccine-acquisition process. With their enormous capacity to pay out, rich countries, even before pandemic took devastating hold, had pursued a ‘portfolio-approach’ in investing on vaccine development research by pharmaceutical companies- simultaneous investment on multiple ones. In exchange, those countries stroke bilateral deal with each drag company to secure enough prospective vaccine doses to inoculate their respective population several times over.

This absolutist vaccine-acquisition drive of wealthy nations had substantially thwarted the holistic approach taken up by World Health Organization(WHO) under the platform of COVAX, a vaccine sharing program. With the aim of reducing the delay in vaccine allocation to poor and developing countries, and thus ensuring vaccine equity, the multilateral platform didn’t get enough incentives from wealthy ones, since started its journey in April 2020. Both investment and acquisition by well-off countries, having bypassed the COVAX, kept them into the front of manufacturing line, thereby, contributed to the distributional injustice.

‘What starts wrong ends wrong’- initial absolutist approaches in vaccine acquisition started to be manifested in discriminatory distribution of vaccines. Thereby, an amazing scientific breakthrough, development of vaccine in record time, has been offset by awful political policy. In mid-2021, when one portion of world were almost on the track of carefree normalcy, people in bigger portion were struggling to breath. Today, problem is not in production of vaccines, as 2 billion doses of vaccines are being manufactured in every month, rather in the ‘unfairness of distribution’.

Early monopolistic exercise by G20 on acquisition and subsequent stockpile of vaccines has resulted in such galling situation that they have commandeered over 89% of vaccines already produced and over 71% of future deliveries. Consequently, the global inoculation drive, since started, is so unjust that for every vaccine delivered to the poorest countries, six times as many doses are being administered as third and booster vaccines in the richest countries. Adding further to the crisis being escalated, while more than 100 countries, for past one year, have desperately demanded emergency waiver on TRIPs related regulatory restriction on Technologies crucial to pandemic recovery, it has repeatedly been blocked by UK and EU.

Picture is not all-about gloomy with respect to vaccine collaboration but it is quite tiny to the scale of requirements. Rich countries could not deliver on the commitments they did to help poor countries immunize their population. For instance, WHO’s target of having 40% of global population vaccinated by end of this year, through COVAX, seems certainly to fall short largely due to the rich countries failing to deliver on their promise to use their surplus vaccines to immunize the under-vaccinated countries. Far from near, the G7 countries had drastically failed to deliver on their promises made on G7 summit in June. As of last week, USA has delivered only 25%, with further embarrassing arithmetic of EU only 19%, UK 11% and Canada just 5%.

Given the frightening predictions from WHO that another 5 million could be added to the already 5 million death tolls across the world, in the next year or more, it is high time starting a collective endeavor with herculean efforts to inoculate large swaths of unvaccinated people in un-protected areas. Keeping large portion out of vaccination will only make the pandemic endure with no time to end, as virus continues to persist through mutating in un-protected area into a more menacing variant. If so, then again someone else may say, after next the worst wave-We were forewarned- and yet here we are.             

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The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (TPNW): Wishful daydream or historic milestone?

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The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted in 2017, has entered into force on the 22nd of January of this year and the number of ratifying states continues to grow, with Mongolia being the latest to announce its accession. This positive trend is certainly welcomed with enthusiasm by the Civil Society campaigners and growing number of supporters of this treaty that represents a huge step forward for the global movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. It would certainly be dishonest to ignore the fact that this new international legal instrument remains controversial, to say the least, for most of the members of the so-called nuclear deterrence community. As preparations are ongoing for the first Meeting of States Parties, scheduled to take place in Vienna on 22-24 March 2022, it is useful to address some of the main doubts and arguments against the treaty.

In this regard, the main criticism is that it makes no sense to support a treaty on nuclear weapons if those states that possess them have not joined nor any intention to join it.  

In order to address this claim, it may be useful to recall that in the case of the Mine Ban and the Cluster Munition treaties, its main promoters and supporters were also states that did not possess those weapons, and that those international instruments also received some harsh criticism for this reason. Despite of this, there is no doubt now that both of those treaties have become remarkable success stories, not only by achieving the goal of approaching universalization, but also by consolidating a general moral condemnation of those categories of weapons. Therefore, the argument that a treaty necessarily needs to be joined by the possessors of the weapons can easily be rebutted. Despite of the current position of the nuclear weapons states, each new ratification of the treaty is not meaningless: on the contrary, it provides the treaty more authority and contributes to the growing pressure on nuclear weapons states to adopt further steps towards nuclear disarmament.

The other major contribution of the TPNW is that it facilitates the process of delegitimisation of nuclear weapons, necessary to finally amend the well-established foundations of nuclear deterrence doctrines. The humanitarian principles that are underlying the treaty are totally incompatible with those doctrines, and therefore are having an impact on them by highlighting the inherent immorality and illegitimacy of nuclear weapons.   

Another argument for the case of ratification is that it provides states the opportunity to support the process of democratization of the global debate on nuclear weapons, as this new treaty has been the result of a very open discussion with active engagement of delegations from all geographic regions and, in particular, of representatives of Civil Society. This is not a minor aspect of this process, but a key element. Indeed, unlike in negotiations of previous international legal instruments, in this era of growing complexity and interlinkages, the main challenges faced by humankind are being addressed by a diverse group of citizens, from all walks of life and regions. Traditional diplomacy is certainly not enough, and in the case of the TPNW, the positive results would clearly not have been possible without the decisive boost provided by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which was able to mobilize Civil Society and likeminded governments towards the goal of negotiating a nuclear weapons ban treaty. 

While it would be naïve to expect the establishment of the nuclear weapons states to be convinced by the humanitarian narrative and in a foreseeable future to amend its defence and security policies base on nuclear deterrence, the TPNW and its focus on the security of the human being instead of the traditional notion of the security of the state, are already having an impact on the academic and public debates in those states.

The second argument used by its critics is that the TPNW weakens the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  Actually, this is not only incorrect, the opposite is true. In fact, the TPNW can serve as an initiative to help implement article VI of the NPT, by which parties are committed to undertake to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”. This is of vital importance as the treaty clearly attaches a key role to all parties, and not only to those states that possess nuclear weapons. This commitment has also been reflected in the Final Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, and the TPNW can be understood as a reflection of that obligation to contribute to nuclear disarmament by non-nuclear weapons states.

Another common point is that the nuclear weapons industry is too strong and well consolidated and that it would be naïve to pretend that this treaty could actually have an impact on investment decisions.

This pessimism has also been proven wrong. In fact, in 2021, more than one hundred financial institutions are reported to have decided to stop investing in companies related to nuclear weapons production. As a result, the nuclear weapons industry is experiencing a considerable reduction and the trend towards the exclusion of this sector from investment targets is growing steadily. This is not only the consequence from the legal obligations that emanate from the TPNW but a reflection of the devaluation of the public image associated to these industries. As this public image continues to deteriorate, it is likely that this trend will continue and that the moral condemnation of these weapons of mass destruction will be absorbed into the mainstream of society.

Another common misinterpretation is that the TPNW should be understood as an instrument that is only designed to be joined exclusively by non-nuclear weapons states.

In fact, even though the treaty was developed by non-nuclear weapons states, it has been drafted and negotiated with the goal of universal adherence, including, someday, those states that still include nuclear deterrence in their national security doctrines. In particular, the TPNW establishes a clear set of steps for nuclear weapons states in order to eliminate their arsenals of nuclear weapons. Specifically, within 60 days after the entry into force of the treaty for a state party that possesses nuclear weapons, that state must submit a plan for the complete elimination of its nuclear weapons to a competent international authority that has been specially designated by states parties. The treaty also includes a process to designate a competent international authority to verify the elimination of nuclear weapons by a state before acceding to the treaty, and a process for states parties that maintain nuclear weapons in their territories for the removal of these weapons and report this action to the United Nations Secretary General.

It is also noteworthy that this treaty obliges states parties to provide adequate assistance to victims affected by the use or by testing of nuclear weapons, and to take the necessary measures for environmental rehabilitation in areas contaminated under its control. This dimension of the treaty constitutes an important contribution both to the protection of human rights of victims and to the now inescapable obligation to protect the environment, which are aspects that are not covered by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This certainly does not affect the value and vital role of this key instrument of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime but complements it by addressing the fundamental issue of environmental reparation.

The main challenge now is now not only to achieve a wider universality of the TPNW, but to engage more stakeholders and create awareness on the urgency of bringing pressure on the nuclear weapons states to finally move toward nuclear disarmament. In this regard, Civil Society initiatives have been promoting engagement of members of grassroots, parliament, the media and city governments, particularly in nuclear weapons states, which has had impressive results, with hundreds of local governments expressing support for the treaty and generating discussion among the population. These initiatives serve the purpose of putting pressure on politicians and especially, to facilitate a discussion within democratic societies about the sustainability and risks involved in the possession and harboring of nuclear weapons.

Indeed, the TPNW has a long way to go and overcome many obstacles to achieve its objective, but in its first year of entry into force, it has already had an undeniable impact on the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation debate, despite the expected skeptics and efforts to ignore its existence stemming from the still powerful nuclear deterrence establishment. Most of its technical experts, academics and government officials honestly believe that nuclear weapons have helped to guarantee peace and stability to the world and therefore should continue as the foundation of international security doctrines. These well-established ideas have been based on the questionable assumption that the deployment of these weapons have avoided war and can guarantee permanent peace for all nations. This has served as a sort of dogmatic idea for many decades, but recent research results have shown that the risks involved are significantly higher and that the humanitarian consequences would be catastrophic for every citizen of the planet. The humanitarian impact paradigm, which underlies the process that has inspired the TPNW, has provoked a tectonic shift in the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation debate, which had been limited to the NPT review conferences with its often-frustrating results. Certainly, the persistence of the different approaches needs to be addressed in a more constructive discussion among the supporters of this treaty and the deterrence community.

Finally, the fact that the first meeting of states parties of the TPNW will take place in Vienna is very meaningful as Austria has been one of the leading nations in this process, particularly in drafting the Humanitarian Pledge to fill the legal gap for the prohibition of nuclear weapons, which has been a decisive step towards the treaty that has already fulfilled that commitment. Despite of all the difficulties and the persistence of significant resistance, the active and committed participation of diplomats and Civil Society representatives, under the leadership of Austria, allow to envisage that this first meeting will help to strengthen the treaty and move forward in the long and burdensome road to the final objective of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.

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International Law

Regional Mechanisms of Human Rights: The Way Forward: Case of South Asia

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Long debates have evolved since the 1948 UDHR as to whether human rights should always be perceived as universal, or whether they need to be regarded as contextual on regional and local cultures. If we look at  Art. 2 of the UDHR the rights apply “with no distinction given to their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Still in spite of this, the universality has been criticized by some, who argue that by claiming human rights are universal, we ignore and undermine the cultural differences that exist between societies in different parts of the world

Historically, the first written evidence of human rights was found in the famous universal declaration in 1215 A.D., popularly known as the ‘Magna Carta’. Along with the same, there were many thinkers like Hobbes, Locke Rousseau, Milton, and Voltaire who argued in favour of  individual rights and with passage of time and the conclusion of two world wars, the United Nations Organisation came into being on 24th October 1945 that replaced the League of Nations.

Further, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was established in 1948 and is considered a milestone in the field of human rights whose primary aim is to protect and promote human rights. In contrast to the said aim, the critics of the UDHR label it as a Western-biased document that fails to account for the cultural norms and values which exist in the rest of the world. It is only with regard to a group of certain core rights like that are listed in the human rights treaties as ‘non-derogable rights’ or considered jus cogens such as the prohibition of the use of force, the law of genocide, the principle of racial non- discrimination, crimes against humanity, and the rules prohibiting trade in slaves and piracy that consensus among nations exist.

The core of the issue is that a group of nations are seeking to redefine the content of the term “human rights” according to their own social and cultural experiences as they argue that the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration reflect Western values and not their own. These countries sign many international human rights treaties and conventions, but the use of reservations and internal obstacles

jeopardize their implementation. Such claims of social and cultural differences in the past have been dismissed by the western countries and the USA who dismissed such claims as being a screen behind which authoritarian governments can perpetuate abuses.

Coming to South Asian Nations, there does exist violations of human rights in India as there is an absence of any regional framework that can hold the government responsible for the acts committed or provide a forum to individuals to appeal against the decisions of the Courts like the one existing under European Court of Human Rights. To illustrate, the aspect of women’s rights needs consideration and improvement in the daily lives of women to meet the gap between formal rights and actual implementation of the same.  What this means is that there exists a necessity to focus on translating the universal values enshrined under International human rights to local contexts that is the only option available to human beings irrespective of the geographical location to the ideals of equality and freedom from discrimination

In this context, there arises a need for establishing regional and sub- regional human rights codes or conventions. This has also been recognized by the United Nations since in absence of a universal approach that the South Asian states refuse to adopt, it is through regional initiatives that the motives of human rights could be achieved. The need for a regional initiative becomes even more significant because unlike Europe, America, and Africa there is no inter-governmental regional system for human rights protection in South Asia. In practice, the reason cited is that the human rights debate revolves around the South Asian views or perspectives. Although the South Asian governments have ratified international human rights instruments, they fail to reflect in the national constitutions or laws of most governments.

The fact that human rights will enjoy certain specificity in South Asia, still to be elaborated and applied, however, does not mean less for the universality of human rights. The reason being that the international human rights do not originate from merely one homogenous European value system or culture, but from various heterogeneous sources, some of these existing in the long history of South Asia. Thus, human rights are universal not only in their applicability to all human beings in every corner of the world, but are also universal because they originated from every corner in the world.

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