Updating the Laws of War for the 21st Century: Time to Reconsider, and Ban, Modern Nation-Killing Ac
The wars and conflicts of today are transforming around the world. In many cases, the democratization of new and emergent technologies is enabling state and non-state actors to upend long established ways and means of warfare on land, sea, air, space, and now in cyberspace. Utilizing hybrid warfare strategies that take advantage of the so-called “gray zone,” these actors are exploiting the evolving understanding of what constitutes modern warfare. From artificial islands in the South China Sea, to the annexation of Crimea.
This paper takes a look at the global impact of post-Cold War gray zone actions that have utilized traditional and unique combinations of strategic weapons and tactics to target specific nations, regions, and populations. Because of these developments, the authors believe it is now necessary to update the international consensus on the laws of war and to ban specific weapons and tactics via international law. These include the use of high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) attacks, anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) attacks that create debris fields, and other activities that could target populations indiscriminately and that could lead to considerable irreversible worldwide consequences. The authors contend such indiscriminate acts should be sanctioned and criminalized under international law as they may cause irreparable harm, on the level of crimes against humanity. While the potential of sanction may not prevent certain activities, it may serve to put actors on notice that such activities will be considered unlawful and have grave consequences. In addition to updating the laws of war, nations must also update their defense postures to confront these potentially devastating outcomes and enhance their resilience.