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The Urbanization of Warfare: Historical Development and Contemporary Challenges for International Humanitarian Law

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This paper provides an overview of the historical development, contemporary discourses, and challenges of the urbanization of warfare for international humanitarian law (IHL). By drawing on critical urbanism studies, official military documents, and doctrines, this paper highlights the mutually constitutive relationship between warfare and militarization, with a particular focus on the American armed forces and argues that IHL in its current form is unable to guarantee a humanitarian conduct of war in compliance with its principles of proportionality and precaution. Using the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a case study, this paper will shed light on the decisive role of the occupying power and its deliberate transformation of the urban battlefield into a militarized zone by targeting dual-use infrastructure and employing discourse and techniques on the ground to securitize urban zones. Therefore, by arguing in favour of the application of customary IHL, which emerges from state practice rather than treaties or conventions, an attempt can be made to close these loopholes. As a more general conclusion, this paper suggests that the mutually constitutive relationship between urbanization and warfare has to become more explicit in military doctrines in order to highlight the responsibility of occupying forces.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2017

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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