International law is a collective delusion

The limits of the law when it comes to war

As Israel wages its war against Hamas in Gaza, world leaders have called for international law to be observed. But this emphasis on the rules around the conduct of war falls short of what people imagine. The law is so permissive that Israel's actions might well be within its limits, and even if they aren't, there is no mechanism for the law to be enforced. In this interview, Samuel Moyn argues that a focus on humane warfare can be counterproductive, and that international law is impotent in the absence of a Hobbesian superstate.

 

Not since the Nuremberg trials after World War II has there been so much intense interest in international law, Samuel Moyn tells me as we start our Zoom call. It has become the framework through which people try to make sense of the two recent wars: Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and more recently the renewed, bloody conflict in the Middle East. The concept of a war crime has become a powerful tool with which we judge the actions of s

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