Will the War on Terror Ever End?

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Cross-posted from La Revue des Droits de l’Homme (English version, French version)


The announcement of President Trump on 19 December 2018 that the US would withdraw its troops from Syria and following reactions provide evidence of the uncertainties on the end of armed conflicts, as a factual, strategic and legal matter. The question of the temporal scope of application of international humanitarian law (IHL) is one of the most unsettled issue of IHL, while it may be the most problematic in the context of contemporary endless wars. In the aftermaths of Trump’s announcement, French Defence minister Florence Parly acknowledged that the group had been significantly weakened, but said the battle was not over because the “Islamic State has not been wiped from the map, nor have its roots. The last pockets of this terrorist organization must be defeated militarily once and for all.”This declaration, while not explicitly declaring commitment to a legal theory on the end of conflicts, deserves special attention as it reminds the language of the “no-reasonable-risk-of-resumption theory” according to which non-international armed conflicts end (and IHL ceases to apply in relation to it) where there is no reasonable risk of hostilities resuming. This theory, if the threshold to assess the absence of reasonable risk is set high – achieved once all members of the enemy group are annihilated – is the object of the present analysis. The goal of this blog, thereby, is not to attribute a legal theory to France that it has not explicitly adopted, but to investigate what doing so would entail.

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