by Karen MacNutt

At first the term “Law of War” might seem to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. However, Civilized nations have learned through centuries of famine and pestilence that even war must have its limits. The Law of War is a series of customs, conventions and treaties that developed around the necessity to define the rules of the game. These rules are intended to prevent unnecessary suffering and allow for the rapid resumption of peaceful activities once the war has ended.

The threat America faces today from terrorists is difficult to address. Terrorists are not nations so technically you can not declare war against them. Although many would like to destroy those who practice terror, a major problem to attacking the terrorists is the fact that they are nationless people. That is, they do not appear to be part of any one government but are a collection of people from different nations linked by hate. If the attacks against America are not coming from a representative of a foreign government, what justification do we have to attack another nation due to the acts of these people? The customary laws of nations clearly show us the way.

Nations, like people, have an inherent right of self defense. All free people, and all collections of free people, have the right to defend themselves. It is just and it is necessary for survival.

National leaders can be enlightened or they can be like the neighborhood bully or local gang leader, that is they can be greedy, corrupt and evil. When a leader is evil, he or she will lead his or her followers along the same paths. Aggressive war, like armed robbery, is a manifestation of a criminal mind. The original purpose of aggressive war was to increase the power and wealth of the leader by pillaging and enslaving anyone weaker than the aggressor.

Today aggressive war is almost always clothed in some high sounding cause. Few people say, “Today I’m going to show the world I’m a demented mass murder.” Usually they say, “I know the way to a better life. If you will only accept a little suffering you will see I am right. Because I am right, I should kill anyone who prevents me from establishing a paradise on earth.” This is the thought process of the Inquisition (kill people to save their soles), the reign of terror of the French Revolution (kill anyone who supported the old order so the better new order will succeed); the Communist Revolution (same as the French Revolution), and Hitler (kill off all the inferior people to purify the race).

Aggressive war, however, is outlawed by treaty. Only defensive war is recognized as “legal” under international law.

A state of war, or belligerence, can exist between nations even though no state of “war” has been declared. Clearly war begins if one nation invades or attacks another. If a nation had directed the attack on the world trade center, they would have committed an act of aggressive war against the United States. The United States would, as an act of self defense, be justified in attacking the aggressor for the purpose of stopping aggression. That is for the purpose of defending its people.

Two nations who are at war have no right to invade or involve a third nation that is not at war, that is a nation that is neutral. If the neutral nation wishes to preserve its neutrality, that is it right not to be attacked by either warring nation, it has to refrain from doing certain hostile acts. If it engages in hostile acts, it loses its neutrality and can be attacked.

What are some of the things that cause a neutral nation to lose its status as a neutral nation?

A county that claims to be “neutral” may not allow its territory to be used as a staging ground for attacks against another nation. (HV Art 7). If it does, it loses its neutrality and is subject to being attacked as a hostile party.

A neutral country may not allow the training of a hostile force from a waring party. It can not allow the fitting out of a hostile force in its territory. It can not allow a waring country to attack its advisory from within the neutral country’s borders. Allowing such acts to occur in its territory is an act of war against the victim country.

Neutral countries have a positive obligation to either expel or disarm and hold (inter) military forces or personnel of a warring country.

Allowing the recruiting of or the training of combatants of a belligerent power within its territory is a violation of the neutrality of the host nation and an act of war as to the other party to the conflict.

When President Bush said he would hold accountable those who aided or harbored the terrorists who attacked America, he was on firm legal ground. Such nations have violated their neutrality.

The options open to a county that has been injured by a breach of neutrality are also set out in international law.

The offended nation may:

Demand compensation for its loss from the nation that violated its neutrality.

Engage in an act of reprisal against the offending nation. A reprisal is a limited attack against the armed forces of the offending nation and open themselves to be joined in the war as a hostile party or subject themselves.

Nations, like individuals, have the right of self defense. Under international law, a nation that has been attacked, or one that faces the immediate threat of attack, may react with violent military force against the nation that committed the hostile act. Although the attack against America was conducted by individuals against whom war can not be declared, if those individuals were supported by a national or allowed to operate out of some nation, then a state of war could exist between the United States and that other nation.

To successfully fight an enemy we must properly identify him. We must understand his purpose. We must separate him from his supporters. We must destroy him. Most of all, we must not by our reaction, accomplish his purpose for him.

The purpose of terrorism is not to kill people. Its purpose is to disrupt the lives of the living. Its purpose is to cause fear. Its strategic use is to separate a people from their government and prove that the government is impotent. It seeks to alter who we are and the way we live. If, in an effort to prevent death, we destroy our free society; if in an effort to prevent death, we allow a wedge to be driven between good people and their government, the terrorists have won. They must not win. Their evil must not be allowed to succeed.

State sponsored terrorism, that is one sponsored by a foreign government, is an act of war. As of this wringing I can not say that the atrocity at the World Trade Center in New York was state sponsored. We do not know yet.

This article was reprinted from Women&Guns, Copyright © Karen MacNutt