Since 1901, the Naval War College (NWC) has produced its “Blue Book” series on various international law topics. Over the years, I’ve thumbed through a few of these volumes. I remember one on the law of piracy that would be very relevant today, given the shenanigans off the Somali coast. The latest Blue Book is even more timely. The War in Afghanistan: A Legal Analysis is a compilation of essays from an International Law Expert’s Workshop held at the NWC. It touches on just about every aspect of the war, from the legal issues surrounding the original coalition intervention to the vexed problem of the status of combatants.
The first paper in the “The War in Afghanistan in Context” section was totally engrossing. “Afghanistan and International Security” by Adam Roberts, Senior Research Fellow of the Centre for International Studies, Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford, and President-elect of the British Academy is a tour de force of clear and logically-structured writing that delineates the historical and political background of Afghanistan, prior efforts by outside power to control it, and the vexing legal issues the current situation presents. Particularly noteworthy was his point that it’s difficult for the coalition gradually to turn over power to the national government in a place where most of the citizenry historically have had no use for any central government. After I finished reading, I was impressed by the author’s grasp of his subject and absolutely daunted by the challenges Afghanistan presents.
Another excellent paper, “Combatants” by W. Hays Parks, Senior Associate Deputy General Counsel, International Affairs Division, Office of General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense, concludes that the Bush Administration’s decision to deny prisoner of war status to Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters was correct under long-established international law, but that its supporting statements were incorrect. I found this essay to be particularly well-documented and lucidly written.
There’s much more to The War in Afghanistan: A Legal Analysis. Some of the discussions depend upon close readings of international precedents that make it heavy going for a lay reader, but all have value for the student of international affairs and the rule of law.