The dynamism of the tradition of the laws of war is conditional on its limitations. The chapter distinguishes between contingent and inherent limits. Contingent limits are those that are set by the law’s environment and which it imagines itself to be up against. They include the fact that the laws of war often seem to be lagging behind social and technological developments, that they lack enforcement, or that they are too embedded in an interstate matrix. These are all significant in their own right, but all relative and susceptible to being overcome. Inherent limits by contrast, are limits that are so woven into the project that they define it. These include the laws of war’s embeddedness in a certain concept of international law, their pragmatism, and their constant effort to compromise between military necessity and humanity. Contingent limitations may be overcome, but only at the cost of condoning inherent limitations.
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