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Condemning or Condoning the Perpetrators? International Humanitarian Law and Attitudes Toward Wartime Violence

  • Geoffrey P. R. Wallace
Abstract

What are the implications of international law for attitudes toward wartime violence? Existing research offers contrasting views on the ability of international legal principles to shape individual preferences, especially in difficult situations involving armed conflict. Employing cross-national survey evidence from several conflict and post-conflict countries, this article contributes to this debate by evaluating the relationship between individuals’ knowledge of the laws of war and attitudes toward wartime conduct. Findings show that exposure to international law is associated with a significant reduction in support for wartime abuses, though the results are stronger for prisoner treatment than for targeting civilians. Analysis further reveals that legal principles generate different expectations of conduct than alternative value systems that are rooted in strong moral foundations regarding the impermissibility of wartime abuses. The findings are relevant for understanding the relationship between international law and domestic actors, and how legal principles relate to the resort to violence.

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Footnotes
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For their helpful comments at various stages, he thanks Kristine Eck, Robert Keohane, Giovanni Mantilla, Krzysztof Pelc, Beth Simmons, Sophia Jordán Wallace, the participants in the 2015 workshop “The Laws of War as an International Regime: History, Theory, and Prospects” at the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton University, and the three anonymous reviewers. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2011 annual meetings of the International Studies Association and the Midwest Political Science Association, as well as at the 2017 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. All errors remain the author’s own.

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