chapter  12
14 Pages

To kill or not to kill as a social question

ByKa Lok Yip

This chapter engages in the dialectic among human agency, structure and culture to examine the recent debate concerning the strategies for compliance with “IHL” triggered by the ICRC-commissioned Study on the Roots of Behaviour in War (the “RBW Study”). By uncovering the different sociological presuppositions held by the RBW Study and its leading critic, Dale Stephens, it illustrates how the RBW Study’s vision of limited human agency in warfare compelled a structurally oriented approach to inducing IHL compliance while Stephens’ opposite vision of self-reflexive individuals acting in their authentic, moral self-identity catalysed an agentially oriented approach to ensuring restraint in war. It then draws on literature on the psychology of social norms and empirical cases to assess the practical feasibility and principled merits of emphasizing human agency at the expense of structural constraints as a strategy to modify behaviour in warfare. Lastly, it explores how de-emphasizing the normativity of IHL because of its association with legal positivism and political liberalism, itself underpinned by political individualism, ends up converting to a sociological form of super-individualism that inflates the power of the individuals and deflates the social process that puts some individuals but not others into positions of power.