Limited force and the return of reprisals in the law of armed conflict

Eric Heinze, Rhiannon Neilsen

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    Armed reprisals are the limited use of military force in response to unlawful actions perpetrated against states. Historically, reprisals provided a military remedy for states that had been wronged (often violently) by another state without having to resort to all-out war in order to counter or deter such wrongful actions. While reprisals are broadly believed to have been outlawed by the UN Charter, states continue to routinely undertake such self-help measures. As part of the roundtable, “The Ethics of Limited Strikes,” this essay examines the doctrine of armed reprisals in light of recent instances of states using force “short of war” in this manner. We argue that the ban on reprisals has been largely ignored by states, and that recent attempts to apply the laws of armed conflict to the cyber domain (such as the Tallinn Manual) are further weakening this prohibition. We conclude that this is a potentially dangerous development that lowers the bar for resorting to military force, risking escalation and thereby further destabilizing the international system.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)175-188
    JournalEthics and International Affairs
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2020

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