Loyola University Chicago international law review, Vol. 9, no. 1, Fall/Winter 2011, p. 131-155
These days, the battlefield hardly seems to be a term of art in international humanitarian law discourse. The laws of war are about conflicts, international or non-international, and hostilities or zones of combat. It is customary to contrast the conventional war of yesterday that occurred in relatively neatly delineated spaces with today's complex, asymmetrical, or even post-modern wars that do not depend on the classical battlefield. Certainly, the idea of disciplined armies meeting in a rural setting at dawn to fight each other off belongs to distant memories. This article will suggest that the application of the laws of war nonetheless remains more haunted by the idea of the battlefield than is commonly acknowledged, and that the concept provides a crucial variable to understand the law's evolution. Indeed, it will contend that the "battlefield" continues to serve a strong role in assessing why, when and how international humanitarian law applies (or does not). In turn, the destructuring of the concept of the battlefield has had a strong impact on the very possibility of the laws of war, and of war itself. These issues have not escaped the attention of some international lawyers but they have tended to be seen mostly through the prism of the most recent developments, notably the "War on Terror." This article will suggest that the definition of the battlefield has always been central to the genesis and evolution of the laws of war, and that the idea of the battlefield captures more of what constitutes war as an activity than many other indicators.