Cornell University Press

International Humanitarian Law and Internal Armed Conflict

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Why have states created international laws to control internal armed conflict? In  Lawmaking under Pressure: International Humanitarian Law and Internal Armed Conflict, Giovanni Mantilla analyzes the origins and development of the international humanitarian treaty rules that now exist to regulate internal armed conflict. Read this Q&A with the author and learn more about his research on global politics and international humanitarian law.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

Rather than an anecdote, my favorite discovery was the discovery of the archive. This sounds strange, but political scientists continue to pursue historical scholarship on the basis of secondary sources, rarely daring to tread into the messiness of primary records. There may sometimes be good reasons for it, but in my view anyone who embarks on a project that can be researched through archives but nonetheless skips them is doing their own research, and the field more broadly, a disservice. Conducting archival research not just fascinating but intellectually enriching, and almost always a source of the academic holy grail: originality.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

I was initially unsure how this type of work would be received in my home discipline. Too few International Relations scholars cared about humanitarian law, despite the brilliant books that eventually trickled out (most of them published by Cornell!) This largely had to do with political scientists’ skepticism about international law, especially in relation to violence. Simultaneously, by around 2010 scholarship about international law and institutions produced by historians and legal scholars had quietly begun to thrive. I wish I had known from the start how much closer interdisciplinary company I should have kept. I am amply pursuing it now.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Political Science?

I want colleagues to understand international law not only as the messy clash of power, interest, and principle, but also of diplomacy’s social pressures. I conceptualize international law as a face-saving compromise to emphasize that most multilateral accords are, as Philip Allot evocatively phrased it, “disagreements reduced to writing”. And because diplomats represent states that view themselves as members of an “international society”, they can be compelled to terms with which they actually disagree to preserve their self-image and maintain their standing. Yet, once struck, even face-saving agreements can bear unexpected influence. We must strive to better comprehend these dynamics.

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Giovanni Mantilla is a university lecturer at Cambridge University and a Fellow of Christ’s College. Follow him on Twitter @giofabman.

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