Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Review: The Ethics of Insurgency: A Critical Guide to Just Guerrilla Warfare

Review: The Ethics of Insurgency: A Critical Guide to Just Guerrilla Warfare

In this book, Michael L. Gross – ethicist, political scientist, and chair of international relations at the University of Haifa – tackles the weighty subject of “just guerrilla warfare” within the broad framework of modern Just War Theory. He discusses the construction of an ethical framework within which to assess under what circumstances the ends and means used by insurgent organizations can be defined as “just” and legitimate. Clearly, this question is both relevant and topical. Indeed, the nature of warfare has greatly changed in the post-World War II era, with conflicts largely shifting from interstate to intrastate, and with the rise in importance of non-state armed groups. Yet, despite the ascent of non-state armed organizations, including insurgent groups, and the great changes in the nature of warfare, international humanitarian law remains mostly state-centric, providing only limited guidelines when assessing the conduct of non-state actors on the battlefield.

Recognizing this lacuna and the practical need to better understand the rights and obligations of armed groups in the context of internal conflicts, Gross analyzes a series of central topics. These include the definition of “just cause” in guerrilla warfare; how the relationship between insurgents and civilians should be regulated; and what means and tactics insurgents could “legitimately” use in waging war. One of the key assumptions of the book is that it is important to create an ad-hoc ethical framework within which to discuss just guerrilla warfare, which is able to reconcile two main principles: on the one hand, the need to wage war “justly,” and on the other, the need for the “just war” framework to be “feasible” and to enable guerrillas to uphold it despite their operational limitations. According to the author, the book seeks rules that “delimit a zone of permissible maneuverability between what is unlawful and what is morally proscribed. These provisions circumscribe just guerrilla warfare” (p.277).

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