The Arctic environment and international humanitarian law
Host item entries:
Canadian yearbook of international law, Vol. 49, 2011, p. 213-241
Ashley Barnes and Christopher Waters
While the law of the sea is rightly viewed as the most suitable international legal regime for the settlement of disputes in the Arctic, the militarisation of this region in an era of climate change is also observable. Yet curiously, scant attention has been paid to the constraints International Humanitarian Law (IHL) would impose on armed conflict in the Arctic, as unlikely as such conflict may be. These include the specific prohibition on causing widespread, long-term and severe environmental damage under Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions; as well as the related obligation to have “due regard” for the natural environment, as referred to in, for example, the San Remo Manual on Naval Warfare. Similarly, environmental factors must play into military assessments of targets based on the general principles of IHL related to targeting. The authors explore how these various legal obligations could be applied in the Arctic context. Referring to the scientific literature, they suggest that, due to the particularly vulnerable nature of this regional environment, many traditional war-fighting techniques would lead to damage that is not legally permissible. This conclusion should provide an additional incentive to policy makers to demilitarize the Arctic and to solve peacefully any disputes which may arise over sovereignty, navigation or resources.