Governing from Above: A History of Aerial Bombing and International Law
AffiliationMelbourne Law School
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2022-12-18.
© 2020 Luis Paulo Bogliolo Piancastelli de Siqueira
The advent of aircraft in the early twentieth century brought significant changes to human society, from transportation and infrastructure to surveillance and warfare. This technology provided a new way of seeing the world from above – an aerial perspective – with its assumptions and frames of understanding space, peoples and objects. In armed conflict, airplanes facilitated interventions in foreign places and attacks directed at cities and civilians, leading to significant changes to military strategy and to legal and political discourses on how wars should be pursued. This thesis studies how the rise of aerial bombing transformed the central concepts of international law of armed conflict. The focus is on the concepts of aerial territory, civilian population, military objectives, and the principle of proportionality. I argue that these core concepts of the laws of war emerged from or were substantially transformed by the emergence of aerial warfare. The thesis covers the period of 1899 to 1977. It begins with the first considerations by international lawyers of how international law should respond to the introduction airplanes in war and ends with the conclusion of the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, where the concepts and ideas that had emerged in the preceding decades were codified. I argue that the central debates and paradoxes of the contemporary laws of war can be traced back to the ideological, material and institutional transformations that took place as a result of aerial bombing in the period between 1899-1977. This thesis aims to shed light on the early history of aerial bombing and international law, a period often forgotten or ignored in scholarship on the laws of war. It uncovers the politics and assumptions behind international humanitarian law in its relation to aerial bombing. I challenge the universality and assimilation of the core concepts of international humanitarian law, exposing how legal discourse has played a central role in the legitimation of aerial violence. The thesis explores what alternative views have been articulated in the past and what could be gained from grasping the possibilities and arguments put forward by international lawyers throughout the rise of air power. This historical inquiry has substantial repercussions for current debates on drone warfare, autonomous weapons and new military technologies, which it claims are the culmination of a much longer history of international humanitarian law embracing a view from above.
Keywordsaerial bombing; international humanitarian law; laws of war; aerial warfare; law of armed conflict; international law
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