Title

Don Quixote or Darth Vader? President Trump's Views on International Humanitarian Law, 20 Wash. U. Global Stud. L. Rev. 45 (2021)

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2021

Abstract

This Article explores President Trump's views on international humanitarian law (IHL) - the body of rules that regulates the conduct of parties involved in an armed conflict. His beliefs are unlike those of any modern President. He has repeatedly called for actions that everyone, including his own administration, agree constitute war crimes. For example, he has called for the U.S. to torture its enemies, has threatened to kill the family members of enemy combatants, has praised the execution of prisoners by U.S. soldiers, has threatened to attack cultural heritage sites in Iran, and has said he wants to pillage Syria's natural resources. These are all acts that have been recognized as crimes for at least 100 years. In effect, President Trump wants to do away with IHL and revert to a legal regime of “might makes right” during armed conflicts. Luckily, he has failed dismally. There are numerous reasons for this failure, including President Trump's ignorance about international law, his disdain for expertise, and his lack of planning and follow-through. But the most important reason he has failed to remake IHL is that he has fundamentally under-estimated IHL's resilience. It is deeply embedded in law and culture in the United States, particularly within the U.S. military. It is also deeply embedded within international law. As a result, the President has made some incendiary statements but has failed to make any meaningful changes to IHL.

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