Theses Doctoral

Watching the Watchers: Non-State Actor Monitoring of State Compliance with International Humanitarian Law

Greene, Brooke

This dissertation examines monitoring of state compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In subjecting this particular monitoring regime to systematic analysis, the dissertation sheds light on the more general question of the effects of international law on state behavior.
The project first places the de facto monitoring regime that governs IHL in the broader context of other monitoring regimes in international politics. Here the decentralized nature of the monitoring regime that governs IHL is highlighted. The central role played by a non state actor, the ICRC, in both the initial codification of the law and its monitoring is partial indication of the tepid interest of states in securing compliance with the law. This chapter likewise examines variation in the IHL monitoring regime across time to explain how exogenous changes in the nature of war in the post-World War II period led to the obsolescence of the institution of the protecting power and its replacement by an ad hoc monitoring system with the ICRC at its center. The informality of this institutional arrangement proved an asset, as it was not hamstrung by the same considerations that bedeviled its competitors, the protecting power and the International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission (IHFFC).
The dissertation proceeds to introduce an original dataset and to test via statistical analysis a set of hypotheses about the conditions under which states grant access to the ICRC as a monitor of IHL compliance. Though both regime type variables and variables related to the military-strategic context prove significant, there is substantial evidence that states make strategic use of monitor access, for instance offering partial but incomplete access as a way to accrue at minimum cost the benefits of signaling compliance. There is further evidence that, while some indicators of military urgency decrease monitor access as realists would predict, other such indicators have the opposite effect. I read this as indication that offering a degree of access holds some political value to warring states and thus is an incentive for states to offer partial access even absent full commitment to the law. This intermediate level of access that appears so attractive to states is thus a potential moral hazard.
The next chapter examines the strategic decisions, not of states, but of the ICRC itself, probing in particular the circumstances under which it is most likely to break its confidentiality policy and "go public." Examining the full universe of ICRC press releases from 1995 to 2005, I find evidence that the organization is particularly likely to choose a policy of silence in situations in which states refuse it access. This decision may sometimes be problematic. As in the case of the Algerian civil war, the organization may hold its tongue during a civil war in which IHL violation is rampant only to happily announce that it has been welcomed back into the state once the opposition has been routed. This chapter also finds evidence for the relevance of a cultural variable. Because ICRC neutrality is particularly suspect in contexts in which a politicized strand of Islam is a salient conflict dimension, the ICRC tends toward a general policy of silence in such conflicts. A notable exception, nevertheless consistent with the general logic explicated here, is the Israeli Palestinian conflict, in which the ICRC has been unusually critical of Israel in an attempt, I argue, to demonstrate the organization's credibility to Arab and Muslim audiences.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Fazal, Tanisha
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 30, 2014