2017 Year in Review - Law of War

By Navneet Binning

Picture: Globe License: Public Domain

In 2017, the Law of War saw many new developments. These include: the closure of the ICTY, the increased threat of cyber warfare, attempts to eliminate nuclear weapons, and a movement to fight the spread of chemical weapons.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Republic of Yugoslavia (ICTY) formally closed on December 21st 2017.  The ICTY was created to adjudicate claims of war crimes that occurred in the Balkans in the 1990’s. The ICTY was open for twenty-four years, delivered 161 indictments, and sentenced ninety individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, and other crimes.

The closure is particularly significant because it marks a shift in international law away from specific criminal tribunals; previously, individual criminal tribunals have been used to prosecute war crimes in the Balkans and Rwanda. International law experts hope that the closure of ICTY will be a catalyst towards the goal of establishing universal jurisdiction for war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Cyber Warfare
In recent years, there has been an increasing fear of the threat of cyber warfare. In 2017, cyber warfare has threatened physical destruction of civilian and military assets. For example, terrorist groups could gain control of cyber switches and use them to derail trains.

However, most of cyber warfare has focused on undermining institutional integrity. In 2017, allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election created mass distrust in the American political system. Cyber warfare used to undermine institutional integrity is particularly concerning because it is difficult to defend oneself from and retaliate against such attacks.

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
In March and July 2017, the United Nations General Assembly met for a conference aimed to prohibit and, eventually, completely eliminate nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was approved on July 7th.

The treaty requires signatories to abstain from developing, possessing, and threatening the use of nuclear weapons. The treaty would also prohibit nations from transferring nuclear weapons between one another.

122 nations signed the treaty, but the nine nations who are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons did not. These nine nations are the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. A joint statement from the United States, United Kingdom, and France states that the nations do not intend to join the treaty.

Opponents of the treaty believe that it “disregards the realities of the international security environment” and fails to address the growing threat of North Korea’s nuclear programs. Opponents instead propose strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which was enacted in 1970 prohibits nations other than the five original nuclear powers (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China) from pursuing nuclear weapons and directs the five original nuclear powers to work towards nuclear disarmament.

Syria Missile Attack
On April 7, the United States, directed by President Trump, carried out a missile strike in Syria that killed more than eighty civilians. The attack was in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its civilians and to signal the United States’ disapproval of Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

The attack prompted wide criticisms, particularly from Russia. A spokesman for President Putin stated that the strike was a “significant blow” for the relationship between the United States and Russia and had no impact on combating international terrorism. Rather, the attack undermined efforts to establish an international coalition to fight the use of chemical weapons.


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