Scorched Earth

(c) Mr Russell Falkingham; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In ‘The Natures of War’ (DOWNLOADS tab) I didn’t have space to address the legal dimensions of militarized natures, but Bronwyn Leebaw provides a helpful review in ‘Scorched Earth: Environmental War Crimes and International Justice‘ in the latest issue of Perspectives on Politics (12 [4] (2014) 770-788.  From the abstract:

Environmental devastation is not only a byproduct of war, but has also been a military strategy since ancient times. How have the norms and laws of war addressed the damage that war inflicts on the environment? How should “environmental war crimes” be defined and addressed? I address these questions by critically examining the way that distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate wartime environmental destruction have been drawn in debates on just war theory and the laws of war. I identify four distinctive formulations for framing the wartime significance of nature that appear in such debates and analyze how each is associated with distinctive claims regarding what constitutes “humaneness” in times of war: nature as property; nature as combatant; nature as Pandora’s Box; and nature as victim.

In the text she elaborates on those four formulations like this:

First, in early debates and documents, as well as contemporary interpretations of humanitarian law, a prominent approach to analyzing wartime destruction of nature has been to evaluate it in relation to claims regarding property protections in times of war. Humaneness, in this formulation, has been defined in relationship to dominion, ownership, discipline, and control, as defined against “wanton” or undisciplined actions. Second, in debates that influenced provisions of humanitarian law regarding chemical and biological weapons, nature has also been framed as a combatant. In this context, humaneness is associated with the use of technically superior weapons and the close identification of human agency with scientific mastery in response to anthropomorphized “enemies” in nature. Third, provisions of humanitarian law that aim to define and address the crime of ecocide emerged in response to the massive herbicidal campaign carried out by the US in Vietnam. Debates on the crime of ecocide were not only influenced by an ecological view of nature and humanity as interdependent, but also by a new formulation that positioned nature as a kind of Pandora’s Box, filled with creative and destructive forces that humanity has the power to unleash, yet not control. Finally, with the rise of international justice institutions, the expansion of the environmental movement as well as the human rights movement, nature has also been framed as a victim, or potential victim, of war crimes. In this formulation, humaneness and human agency are defined in relation to the criminal justice binary of guilt and innocence.

The last three all appear, in various forms, in ‘The Natures of War’, though – as I’ve tried to show, and as others know far better than me – questions of ‘human-ness’ are far from straightforward.

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