Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies (CHRHS)

Do the Geneva Conventions Matter?

The book, edited by Matthew Evangelista and Nina Tannenwald offers a comparative analysis of state practice with regard to the Geneva Conventions. It seeks to answer three questions of critical importance to understanding their role and impact:

  1. How have the Geneva Conventions been incorporated into the laws and practices governing armed forces in particular countries
  2. In what ways has the Geneva regime constrained the behavior of states facing situations such as guerrilla warfare and terrorism, where one would expect the Conventions to come under the greatest pressure?
  3. What factors have contributed to the successes and failures of the Geneva Conventions to protect human rights in wartime?

An overarching theme is to what extent, and under what conditions, does symbolic or “ritual” compliance (for example, incorporation into military manuals and military training) translate into actual compliance on the battlefield? The project draws on insights from and makes contributions to the law and society literature in sociology on compliance within organizations, the constructivist literature in international relations on persuasion and socialization, and legal scholarship on “internalization.” The book includes studies of the Algerian War for independence from France in the 1950s and 1960s; the wars of Yugoslav succession in the 1990s; Russia’s wars against Chechnya; the US wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan; Iranian and Israeli approaches to the laws of war; and the legal obligations of private security firms and peacekeeping forces. The book should be of interest to students and teachers of international relations, human rights, and international law, particularly international humanitarian law.