The vietnamization of the long war on terror : an ongoing lesson in international humanitarian law non-compliance
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Boston university international law journal, Vol. 30, no. 2, Summer 2012, p. 575-593
This essay rejects the conventional wisdom that post Vietnam military reforms adequately addressed the problem of U.S. noncompliance with international humanitarian law. Just as My Lai and Son Thang defines the nadir of America’s counterinsurgency in Vietnam, and the trio of Haditha, Abu Ghraib, and Operation Iron Triangle evoke our worst behavior in Iraq, the recent events of the 5th Stryker “kill team” brigade may come to symbolize our greatest failings in Afghanistan. The premeditated and deliberate killing of Afghani civilians reveals an indifference to human life that is utterly inconsistent with the premises of International Humanitarian Law and the deeply held values of the American military. This short piece examines the Stryker kill team’s behavior to help build the knowledge and insight necessary to develop further reforms for military practices during the long war on terror. The essay situates the 5th Stryker brigade’s troubling behavior within the military’s recent shift to counterinsurgency and highlights the suboptimal compliance conditions likely to bedevil the U.S. military during the long war on terror. Though the U.S. military successfully restructured its goals and reformed its behavior after Vietnam, at least three notable similarities remain. In particular, the military still: (a) abandons effective sorting strategies to exclude high risk soldiers when the demand for troops rises; (b) lacks adequate safeguards against leadership failures that allow a culture of disrespect for human life to fester; and lastly (c) faces only weak checks on its behavior as the result of domestic pressure. In identifying these factors, this essay seeks to help the military and other actors better target efforts to improve international humanitarian law compliance.