Regulating Conflict: Historical Legacies and State Commitment to the Laws of War


  • I thank Daniel Morey, Mark Peffley, Chad Rector, Clayton Thyne, Sophia Wallace, Christopher Way, two anonymous reviewers, and the editor for helpful comments. All errors remain the responsibility of the author; full replication materials available at earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association.


Wallace, Geoffrey. (2011) Regulating Conflict: Historical Legacies and State Commitment to the Laws of War. Foreign Policy Analysis, doi: 10.1111/j.1743-8594.2011.00151.x

The ongoing War on Terror and the rise of nonstate actors in armed conflicts around the world have led both critics and proponents of international law to argue the Geneva Conventions currently governing warfare are no longer relevant. Yet what are the prospects for a new Geneva Convention to take hold in the international community? In order to begin to address this issue, I examine the factors influencing the decision of states to commit to the existing laws of war. Using an event history analysis of the ratification of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and 1977 Additional Protocols I and II, I find formative events involving past experience with war, as well as several other domestic and external factors, shape the incentives to commit to international law. In particular, far from pushing war-torn states to join international agreements in the hopes of mitigating the costs of armed conflict, the legacy of war makes states less willing to be constrained by international humanitarian law. The findings have implications for the role of formative events on incentives for international cooperation and foreshadow that the path toward widespread acceptance of any new Geneva Convention, should one ever be negotiated, would likely be formidable.