Consensus Statement

ELAC will convene a select working group of distinguished academics and policy makers to address a major issue in the management and regulation of armed conflict. This group will commit to a process of joint thinking and shared authorship of a Consensus Statement of Principles examining various aspects of the Institute's Signature Theme for 2008-11, ‘strengthening international authority’. Initial research will be conducted and shared within the working group in 2009. Over the following year, the group will come to agreement on the Consensus Statement. The resulting publication will be widely disseminated to academics, policymakers, and other interested parties.

Signature Theme 2008-2011: Strengthening International Authority

The central objective of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict is to determine how law, norms, and institutions can regulate, restrain, prevent, and terminate armed conflict in today’s international system. Yet, it quickly becomes clear that any effective framework for managing and regulating armed conflict can only be realised in the context of strengthened structures of international authority. ‘Authority’ refers both to political power that is recognised as legitimate and justified, and to the judicial and quasi-judicial bodies charged with determining whether states and other actors are in compliance with norms. Both are critical to the effective management of armed conflict, yet both are under-scrutinized within traditional Just War theory and both are facing a set of multi-faceted challenges in the ‘real’ world.

The signature theme therefore focuses on the following question: Why are existing authority structures failing to regulate the use of force, and how can they be strengthened?

  1. Theory: One aspect of the research is to return to first principles, and to determine what constitutes an authority. This will involve developing a general account of the nature of authority and an explanation of its normative basis. It will also entail a re-examination of ‘right authority’ within Just War theory. The primary methodology will be philosophical and conceptual analysis, supported by examination of different models of authority in history and in different cultural traditions. Second, we will analyze existing political structures and international bodies that attempt to regulate armed conflict and clarify what kind of authority they exert. These include global bodies such as the United Nations Security Council and the International Criminal Court, regional organizations such as NATO and the African Union, international agreements and treaties, and ad hoc tribunals and domestic courts. In undertaking this research, we consider controversial issues such as Security Council reform, and the extent to which it is appropriate for the decisions of political leaders (concerning the recourse to war) and of military commanders (in the operational use of force) to be subject to ex post facto judgment by foreign and international judges. Finally, we will examine the potential for new and less centralised models of authority, based on the way that authority structures emerge in open-source communities, network-centric models of authority, and market-based models of authority. These self-organizing approaches differ substantially from the centralized, top-down model of most political and legal institutions.
  2. Policy-Relevant Analysis: The second main stream of research will examine more closely the factors that hamper the effectiveness of current authority structures, and forward potential solutions. Our current hypothesis is that there are three broad factors at work:
    • Exceeding or shirking authority: Current structures often exceed their authority or conversely fail to fulfil the mandate conferred on them. These tendencies have contributed to a lack of consensus on the kinds of norms and rules that should govern the use of force, a gap in accountability, and a search for alternative authority structures capable of acting to protect the interests of the international community.
    • The changing nature of war: The transformation of warfare (in terms of objectives, players, and weaponry) has complicated the response of existing authoritative bodies and agreements, and called into question their expertise, impartiality, and fairness (qualities that have traditionally been associated with effective authority structures).
    • An unclear division of labour: Recent crises and wars have shown a lack of consensus on the respective roles of states and international organizations, as well as of global and regional structures, with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security. Likewise, in many domestic systems, the almost exclusive role traditionally allocated to the executive branch in making decisions relating to war is under challenge, raising questions as to the extent to which the legislative and judicial branches of government ought to be involved in such decisions.