The Political Origins of the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 12:00 PM
Columbia Hall 6 (Washington Hilton)
Giovanni Mantilla, Brown University
From 1974-1977, states gathered in Geneva to negotiate new international legal treaties to regulate their conduct during international and internal conflicts, known as the Additional Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions. This paper asks two central questions: What prompted the impetus for these revised normative frameworks? How do we understand the political process as well as the outcomes of these diplomatic bargains? On the basis of extensive multi-archival research and interviews with participants, I show how international shocks, or domestic shocks of international proportions (major civil wars and proliferating colonial, secessionist and anti-communist conflicts in the 1950s and 1960s) progressively opened windows of opportunity which evinced the “need to do something” about internal conflicts; motivated prominent non-state actors to take up the issue and press for change; and facilitated states’ acceptance to work out new international rules either by morally motivating some of them or by helping others relax their initial reluctance toward them. Once formal negotiations began in 1974, states waged intense social struggles in international conferences to hammer out consensus formulae, with different groups trying to coerce their opponents into accepting their vision. Most controversially, under the powerful banner of self-determination, a majority coalition of newly-independent, Third World and socialist states forced the diplomatic hand of otherwise more powerful Western states by, among others, enshrining “armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes” as international conflicts. Simultaneously, this coalition fought to water down the proposed standards for other types of internal conflicts, which many of them were experiencing in the aftermath of decolonization. This paper details the tense politics behind the emergence of these humanitarian laws, revealing them as difficult compromises that strike an uneasy balance between various states’ concerns for legitimacy, morality and military expediency.
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