Year in Review – 2023

by

| Dec 29, 2023

Year 2023

2023 has witnessed not only a continuation of ongoing conflicts, including those in Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh, but also the emergence of new hostilities. A notable addition to the global security landscape was the renewed armed conflict between Israel and Hamas. This tumultuous backdrop presented Articles of War and our contributors with opportunities to consider the international legal aspects of diverse conflicts worldwide.

As we approach the conclusion of 2023, we reflect on the intricate questions of international law related to armed conflicts that Articles of War has explored throughout the year. From the complexities of different conflicts to the profound discussions concerning the essence of the law of armed conflict (LOAC) in light of emerging technologies, Articles of War has covered a wide range of LOAC-related questions in over 225 posts, serving as a vital resource for understanding the legal dimensions of contemporary military and conflict-related issues.

Legal Challenges in Ongoing Conflicts

In its second year, the intensified Ukraine-Russia war remained a focal point of analysis for Articles of War, particularly within the Ukraine Symposium. Our authors analyzed the impact of sanctions on humanitarian aid and the possibility of seizing Russian State assets, scrutinized the legality of surrendering to drones, and grappled with the multifaceted dimensions of a conflict that in many ways transcends traditional boundaries. This included discussions on the global military aid provided to both Ukraine and Russia, the phenomenon of crowdsourced war, and the process of transferring POWs to third countries.

From the war in Ukraine to the Al Hassan trial, 2023 featured discussions on prosecuting war crimes, emphasizing individuals’ legal accountability for their actions in armed conflicts. Meanwhile, the extensive involvement of the Wagner Group in the Ukraine-Russia conflict and attempts to integrate the group into the Russian State prompted profound questions related to State responsibility for the activities of non-State actors.

The legal dynamics of naval warfare emerged equally as a prominent theme. Discussions on the impact of naval blockades, the use of naval mine warfare in the Black Sea, and the prospective mine clearing missions post-war highlighted the evolving maritime dimension of the year’s conflicts as well as the associated legal issues.

Parallel to its focus on the Ukraine conflict, Articles of War authors delved into multiple specific regional crises. In depth discussions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the coup in Niger, and violent conflict in Mozambique underscored the broader implications of these crises for international security and law.

Navigating Legal Quandaries

After the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, an old conflict revived in the Gaza Strip. This prompted Articles of War authors to analyze the multitude of legal quandaries in our Israel – Hamas 2023 Symposium. Beyond the obvious geopolitical tensions, legal scholars delved into questions of occupation, truces, warnings, sieges, the legality of attacks on Hamas (see here and here), self-defense, targeting (see here and here), flooding tunnels, sexual violence in armed conflicts, hostage rescue missions, as well as the challenge of delivering humanitarian aid from the sea.

Hamas’s attacks and Israel’s responses have spawned intensive discussions and legal debates that exemplify the complex realities that shape the legal landscape and our understanding of LOAC. Our multifaceted discussions, such as international law “made in Israel” versus international law “made for Israel,” have offered readers a nuanced and novel understanding of the legal challenges involved.

Emerging Technologies and Warfare

Throughout the year, an overarching theme unfolded at the intersection of law and emerging technologies. The Ukraine-Russia war, in particular, has proven to be fertile ground for innovation. The use of “naval drones” and creating a possibility for technologically-enabled surrender show the international community the future of armed conflicts.

Drones, artificial intelligence, and cyber operations (e.g., strategic use of ransomware, accountability for cyber war crimes) took center stage in discussions that transcended mere technological advancements. Articles of War authors probed the challenges and opportunities presented by these innovations in the Responsible AI Symposium, emphasizing the pressing need for legal frameworks to adapt to the evolving nature of the modern battlefield.

Civilians

As predicted by Kristy Radio and Joey Sepulvado in their Year Ahead post in January 2023, civilians and civilian harm mitigation became a recurrent theme for Articles of War throughout 2023. The unveiling of the new U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Instruction on Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response marked the United States’ commitment to finding a delicate balance between security needs and humanitarian concerns.

Furthermore, the 2023 update to the U.S. DoD Law of War Manual invited several reflections in the 2023 DoD Manual Revision series. The topics covered included targeting, the new presumption of civilian status, and understanding (or redefining) doubt in military operations. These discussions illuminated the ongoing efforts to adapt legal frameworks to the ever-changing nature of conflict, reflecting the reality that protecting innocent lives is not just a legal obligation but also a strategic imperative.

Conclusion

The LOAC landscape of 2023, as revealed in these recurring themes, is a complex tapestry where each strand represents not only legal rules and principles, but also our experience and understanding of the law. The Israel-Hamas and Ukraine-Russia conflicts, while rooted in their own regional contexts, transcend borders and emphasize the universality of the legal challenges faced by nations in times of turmoil.

Articles of War introduced its last Year in Review post with the notion that 2022 was a pivotal moment for international peace and security as well as LOAC itself. The same holds true for 2023. Throughout the year, armed conflicts around the world have prompted reflections not only on the wars themselves but equally on the laws that govern them. We have seen new LOAC challenges emerge in different theaters of conflict. Articles of War’s expert analysis, debate, and commentary has aimed to help readers to understand the legal intricacies of these conflicts a little better.

To our readers, contributors, and our benefactors, including especially the Dean’s Office at the United States Military Academy at West Point, we offer our sincere thanks. And as we step into a new year, the themes that have recurred throughout 2023 provide valuable insights into the evolving nature of the law of armed conflict and the conduct of war itself. The legal community’s commitment to fostering dialogue, dissecting complex issues, and seeking innovative solutions ensures that the legal framework remains robust and responsive to the challenges of our time. Our Board of Advisors and Senior Fellows will soon provide a look into 2024 and the challenges it might bring. These reflections will be published early in the new year.

***

Liisi Adamson is the Programme Director and Lecturer in the IT Law Programme at University of Tartu, School of Law and a Senior Editor of Articles of War.

 

 

Photo credit: Sgt. Paul Won, U.S. Army