What is war? The question is more than academic, says international law expert Mary Ellen O’Connell. Without a clear definition of war or armed conflict, governments can simply claim they are at war in order to justify actions — killings, arrests, detentions — that otherwise would be condemned and prohibited by international law.
O’Connell’s new edited volume, “What Is War? An Investigation in the Wake of 9/11,” just released by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, “makes concrete the fact that armed conflict is legally defined as ‘war’ only when there is actual fighting by organized groups at a certain level of intensity on the battlefield,” O’Connell says.