Condemning or condoning the perpetrators ? : International humanitarian law and attitudes toward wartime violence
Geoffrey P. R. Wallace
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Law & social inquiry, Vol. 44, issue 1, February 2019, p. 192-226
Bibliography : p. 221-226
What are the implications of international law for attitudes toward wartime violence? Existing research offers contrasting views on the ability of international legal principles to shape individual preferences, especially in difficult situations involving armed conflict. Employing cross-national survey evidence from several conflict and post-conflict countries, this article contributes to this debate by evaluating the relationship between individuals’ knowledge of the laws of war and attitudes toward wartime conduct. Findings show that exposure to international law is associated with a significant reduction in support for wartime abuses, though the results are stronger for prisoner treatment than for targeting civilians. Analysis further reveals that legal principles generate different expectations of conduct than alternative value systems that are rooted in strong moral foundations regarding the impermissibility of wartime abuses. The findings are relevant for understanding the relationship between international law and domestic actors, and how legal principles relate to the resort to violence.