March 26, 2012
Declaring War and Peace
The Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law welcomed Tanisha Fazal, Associate Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, on March 26, 2012. Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs, introduced Dr. Fazal.
Dr. Fazal spoke about her research on recent trends in declarations of war and peace given the increasing number of laws on the conduct of war. She argued that armed conflict has a strategic relationship to international law, and the proliferation of international law that codifies and restricts the ways people can conduct themselves in war has led to a decline in formal wars and peace treaties. According to her study, one exception to this is in the context of civil war, in which case the proliferation of laws on war represent opportunities that can be taken advantage of rather than being seen as constraints on behavior.
Dr. Fazal defined a declaration of war as a public proclamation of a state’s intentions to engage in hostilities, and she noted that the domestic consequences for formally declaring war as well as the implications in international politics often lead states to engage in informal wars. Following this trend, there has also been a decline in formal peace treaties between states, according to Dr. Fazal.
Dr. Fazal described the costs of being in a formal state of war. These include the bureaucratic costs of complying with international laws on war, the strategic costs of not using certain weapons or tactics that would violate compliance, and the reputational costs of noncompliance. Dr. Fazal said that over time all of these costs have come to outweigh the benefits and create a disincentive for states to employ war formalities.
Through her research, Dr. Fazal found that the probability of states declaring war and signing peace treaties declines as the laws of war become more complex. She concluded that international law is important but political leaders are not above manipulating it for their own strategic purposes.
Questions from the audience covered the sanctions of noncompliance with international laws on war, the effectiveness of peace treaties, the general decline in interstate war, and the disincentives for formal declarations of war in the case of preventive war.