Leveraging Humanitarian Law and Military Ethics as a hybrid warfare strategy

Résumé d’un papier présenté avec Stephanie Lamy à la Euro-ISME Annual Conference 2017 Royal Military Academy, Bruxelles, Belgique, 30 May – 2 June 2017 « Is restraint in war essential for a lasting peace?

« For the past six years, Syria and its allies have been waging a war on civilians and the civil society initiatives which emerged before and during the conflict. Described as “new wars” (Kaldor), this form of hybrid warfare combines state and non-state actors and blurs the traditional distinction not only  between combatants and noncombatants of Just War theory (McMahan) but also opens up new theaters of operations, using kinetic, economic and cognitive tactics. It is massively lethal to the population and underscores paradigm shifts for Military Ethics. By pushing back the limits of what horrors are ethically acceptable, the regime coalition forces (Russia, Iran, Syria) forced the United Nations to create a hierarchy of war crimes. The forced displacement seemed preferable to the possible massacre of the entire East Aleppo population. Imposing this compromise in humanitarian values undermines the legitimacy of the United Nations in the peace process as well as the very framework of Jus post bellum.

By implementing a multi-pronged (kinetic, economic, cognitive warfare) strategy which plays out in the civil society landscape the regime coalition are aiming to not only annihilate infrastructure, but also shut down any possible space for democratic debate on the future of Syria further down the line. The Libyan conflict and its (non)resolution should have yielded meaningful take-aways including the many missed opportunities in supporting new civil society which materialised during the conflict.

Looking at the Syrian conflict, we demonstrate in the first part how ignoring the systematic non-respect for Humanitarian Law and Military Ethics, in the context of hybrid warfare, leads to a forfeit in the contested grey theaters of operations. Rules of military ethics provide coherence between rules applied in Jus in bello and Jus post bellum when based not only on a technical body of law, but also during direct and continuous contact with civilians in zones of armed conflict. The strategy at stake in Libyan and Syrian conflicts blur the distinction between civilian and military targets.

Our paper will not only contribute in analyzing which behaviours could leverage Humanitarian Law and Military Ethics as a hybrid war strategy – thus ultimately facilitating the conclusion of peace – but also provide ideas and tools to implement peacebuilding during the duration of armed conflict. Based on previous implementation in the Libyan conflict, the Secure Online Crisis Management Hub project that aims to pull together multiple stakeholders, academics and technologists to build a framework which safeguards Humanitarian Law and Military Ethics, enabling private and civilian initiatives during armed conflict, and ultimately empowering local emerging civil society to help them build fairer democracies in institution poor, post-conflict environments. »

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