Rethinking Legitimate Authority

Authored by: Anne Schwenkenbecher

Routledge Handbook of Ethics and War

Print publication date:  July  2013
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415539340
eBook ISBN: 9780203107164
Adobe ISBN: 9781136261008


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In its traditional form, the just war criterion of legitimate authority restricted the right to declare war to a state's legitimate representatives and the right to wage war to state agents. However, to an increasing degree, contemporary violent conflicts involve non-state actors. This has been reflected in the Geneva Convention's acknowledgement of ‘armed conflict not of an international character’. Furthermore, in order to end a violent conflict involving non-state parties there is often some kind of recognition of non-state actors as legitimate negotiating partners and contract parties on the part of state actors or the international community. Former liberation movements and their leaders have in the past become internationally recognized as legitimate political forces and legitimate leaders. Such recognition has repeatedly given rise to the question of what makes it appropriate to consider particular violent non-state actors to be legitimate violent agents and others not. In just war theory, which has been both a source for international standards of war and an instance of critical reflection on those standards, there has been comparatively little debate on adjusting and reformulating the traditional criterion of legitimate authority accordingly. 1 This is why it will concern us in this article.

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