Or What's a Uniform For?
Chester poses an interesting question:
Today's Supreme Court ruling seems to me a remarkable point in the development of a kind of quasi-sovereignty for non-state organizations.
Were there to develop an Anti-Qaeda force, a private military to pursue Al Qaeda and win the war on its own terms, then their members would also have the Geneva Conventions apply to them, were they ever to be apprehended or detained by the US, yes? In other words, if the Geneva Convention now applies to a non-state that is a non-signatory in the eyes of the US, does it not then apply to ALL non-states that are non-signatories?
This is quite a large new degree of sovereignty that has been granted to non-state organizations. How will the concept of citizenship evolve with decisions like these?
If protections that normally accrue to states after debate and ratification can now be given over to non-states which have no mechanism for ratification, let alone debate, one can easily imagine a scenario in which non-state organizations form themselves and immediately possess the rights of a state, with no corresponding need to adhere to any laws in their own activities.
If this is the case, then we have the answer to the war: it will be privatized, and its ultimate victories won by uninhibited private military actors, not the hamstrung citizen militaries of nation-states.
Any legal minds out there are welcome to comment.
I certainly do hope that legal minds chime in. From a layman's point of view the answer to Chester's rhetorical 'if al-Qaeda is protected doesn't that mean any privately organized violent effort is similarly protected' must logically be "yes". Some time ago I conjectured that al-Qaeda's asymmetrical advantages were in retrospect evanescent because any anti-Muslim organization could emulate them.
Long before a faculty lounge in Islamabad or Riyadh realizes it can build a bomb alone and secretly, the same thought will have occurred to individuals in Tel Aviv, New Delhi or Palo Alto. Any Islamic group that believes it can attack New York deniably should convince itself that no similar group can nuke Mecca at the height of the pilgrim season. In fact, the whole problem that Coll describes should be generalized. The only thing worse than discovering that New York has been destroyed by persons unknown is to find that Islamabad has been vaporized by a group we've never heard of.
Any environment capable of producing terrorism on a scale which could destroy America would be sufficiently powerful to destroy Islam -- and destroy it first many times over. Any weapon that AQ Khan can make can be bought by believers and infidels alike. The theorists of asymmetrical terrorist warfare forgot that its military effectiveness depends on the very restraints that it, itself, dissolves. ...
Of course if we really believed in the oft-recited mantra that new technologies are empowering private groups to levels equal to states -- if we really believed it and took it seriously -- it would necessarily follow that something like what Chester suggests would eventually happen. Non-state actors would be become legitimate actors on the battlefield. And there would be no putting the genie back in the bottle. Only hours ago I wrote, without completely thinking it through that:
Hamadan, I think, may come to be regarded by future historians as a blow against the Geneva Conventions. Not because anyone will disobey them; but because their fulfillment -- as fulfilled they now must be -- will have the effect of undermining the very institutions on which they are based; of reinforcing not reciprocity but asymmetry in battlefield etiquette. In a word, of producing exactly the opposite of their reason for existence.
This is not to say that Hamadan puts al-Qaeda on the same level of uniformed soldiers. But as Chester notices, the camel's nose is in the tent. He says, "If this is the case, then we have the answer to the war: it will be privatized, and its ultimate victories won by uninhibited private military actors, not the hamstrung citizen militaries of nation-states." In fact look for this to happen. The traditional riposte of uniformed militaries to restrictions has been to job out the dirty work to "militias" and other deniable combatants.