QuickPost-Commentary: Rewritting the Geneva Conventions – John Reid

Special Note: With Internet finally here, this is my first posting in 3-4 weeks. I am looking forward to ramping-up to normal blogging operations soon…

This week John Reid, the British Defence Sec, called for a revamp of the Geneva Convention due to the changing nature of modern (post-modern?) warfare at the Royal United Services Institute.

“We risk trying to fight 21st-century conflict with 20th-century rules which, when they were devised, did not contemplate the type of enemy which is now extant,” he said. “The laws of the 20th century placed constraints on us all which enhanced peace and protected liberty. We must ask ourselves whether, as the new century begins, they will do the same.” (2)

Reid makes the argument that Geneva Conventions was not designed for a time where “non-state actors [are] capable of operating on a global scale, crossing international borders” and where “accelerating scientific and technological progress which has facilitated the proliferation of, and easier access to, the means of wholesale human destruction – particularly in the form of chemical, biological or radiological weaponry.”

Put simply, in today’s changed circumstances are we convinced that it adequately covers:
• the contemporary threat from international terrorists?
• The circumstances in which states may need to take action in order to avert imminent attack?
• Those situations where the international community needs to intervene on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity in order to stop internal suppression – mass murder and genocide – as opposed to external aggression?

“Laws such as the Geneva Convention had been drawn up at a time when the main threat of war was between states but the 21st-century world was under threat from terrorist groups unconstrained by any sense of morality or adherence to any conventions. “We now have to cope with a deliberate regression towards barbaric terrorism by our opponents,” he said. “The legal constraints upon us have to be set against an enemy that adheres to no constraints whatsoever.”

The phrase “unconstrained by any sense of morality” is somewhat inaccurate. The type of warfare (fourth-generation) we are seeing today is not driven by any sense of immorality. It is the gulf (asymmetry) between Western-style militaries (and their societies) against enemies that have radically differing ethics, moral code, organization, structure and motivations. Not superior or inferior, but rather on an entirely on a different plane.

Indeed, the beginnings of the Geneva Conventions go back as far as the 1864 – a very different world from today. Yet, for better or worse, these conventions are a part of the West’s sacred documents that cannot be thrown into the dustbin of history – least the West loses its own identity and values.

Change must happen and John Reid is right in pointing this out, but it must be examined critically least the West loses its identify in the fight against its enemies.

Links and Sources
1) Reid calls for Geneva Convention to be rewritten
2) Reid urges review of Geneva Convention on prisoner treatment
3) Full transcript RUSI – Event – Lecture: Secretary of State for Defence







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