Yoram Dinstein (1936-2024)

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| Feb 12, 2024

Yoram Dinstein

Editors’ note: This post honors Professor Yoram Dinstein, who passed away on Saturday February 10, 2024. Over the coming weeks, Articles of War will feature a series of posts to recognize Professor Dinstein’s work and the significant contribution his scholarship has made to our understanding of international law.

A mighty oak has fallen. On Saturday, Professor Yoram Dinstein passed away peacefully, surrounded by loved ones.

Professor Dinstein was a giant of international law, especially with regard to the jus ad bellum and the law of armed conflict. He authored many seminal works in both fields, including War, Aggression and Self-Defence (six editions), The Conduct of Hostilities Under the Law of International Armed Conflict (four editions), Non-International Armed Conflicts in International Law (two editions), The International Law of Belligerent Occupation (two editions), and The Defense of “Obedience to Superior Orders” in International Law (two editions). They are exceptional books, grounded in both law and practice. Indeed, for the years I chaired the Stockton Center at the U.S. Naval War College, the first task of every newly assigned officer was to read the first two – cover to cover. Without having done so, they were simply unprepared for the job. Additionally, Professor Dinstein produced hundreds of articles on topics ranging from human rights to cyber law. And since 1971, he served as the Founding Editor of the Israel Yearbook on Human Rights.

In addition to his own publications, Professor Dinstein participated in most of the field’s key expert processes and efforts. Among them were the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, the Manual on the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict, and the ICRC’s Interpretive Guidance on the Notion of Direct Participation project. He also directed expert-driven projects leading to the publication of the Harvard Manual on International Law Applicable to Air and Missile Warfare and the Oslo Manual on Select Topics of the Law of Armed Conflicts. It was my good fortune to participate in a number of these efforts, and I can attest that he was a (often “the”) dominant and wise voice in each.

Although Professor Dinstein served as a member of Israel’s delegation to the United Nations and as Consul-General in New York, and regularly provided legal advice to governments, it was as an academic that he made his greatest mark. First teaching at Hebrew University, he later moved to Tel-Aviv University, where he went on to serve as Dean of the Faculty of Law, Rector of the university, and President. Appointed Professor Emeritus upon retirement, he was often a visiting professor elsewhere, including appointments as a Humboldt Fellow at the Max Plank Institute in Heidelberg and a Meltzer Visiting Professor at New York University. Perhaps most notably, Professor Dinstein was twice appointed the Charles H. Stockton Professor at the U.S. Naval War College, where I first met him as an Air Force officer on the faculty. He acted as a greybeard advisor to the Center for many years thereafter, and much of its success is directly due to his sage counsel.

A reflection of the high regard in which the international law community held him, Professor Dinstein served as President of Israel’s branch of the International Law Association and the Israel United Nations Association, Chairman of the Israel branch of Amnesty International, a member of the Executive Council of the American Society of International Law, a member of the Institut de Droit International, and a member of the Council of the San Remo International Institute of Humanitarian Law. Last year, he received the prestigious Israel Prize for his lifetime of scholarship.

As the above should illustrate, Yoram Dinstein was effectively the “Academic Dean” of our community of scholars and practitioners. But his most enduring contribution may well be his mentorship. Over the decades, he took many younger scholars and practitioners, especially military legal advisers, under his wing. It was my great honor to be one. I have to admit that it was not always easy. Yoram demanded hard work, excellence, and surgical precision. Even after I became a dean, he would still take me aside after every presentation to explain step-by-step where I had been sloppy in my analysis or had missed a point. And for those of us who had the extraordinary experience of working under him on projects like the Harvard Manual, it was always like returning to the first day of law school and being introduced to the tough-love Socratic method all over again. But we understood he was driving us toward excellence, and we loved him for it. We were family.

Finally, as many readers of Articles of War serve or have served their nations in uniform, let me close by telling you how much he respected and admired you. He understood that the law of armed conflict is a matter of life and death for those touched by war, soldiers and civilians alike. And he was acutely aware that you often hold the keys to its militarily sensible yet humane application. Therefore, although he was a scholar of the highest order, he cared most about how the law was understood on the battlefield. Although comfortable in an ivory tower, he was truly at home in a war college, a JAG school, or a unit conference room surrounded by those who would take what he had to offer and implement it for good on the battlefield. His legacy will live on through you.

I know I speak for friends and colleagues worldwide, in and out of uniform, in offering our deepest condolences to his family. Yoram was my mentor, critic, sounding board, and friend. I will miss him terribly, and I know so many of you will as well.

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Michael N. Schmitt is the G. Norman Lieber Distinguished Scholar at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He is also Professor of Public International Law at the University of Reading and Professor Emeritus and Charles H. Stockton Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the United States Naval War College.

 

 

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