Although it can play an important role, the vital task of protecting the environment during warfare cannot rely solely or primarily on international legal tools to succeed. So argues Dan Bodansky, a leading international law scholar, who sees the problem of wartime environmental degradation as one solved not by more legal rules or stricter enforcement but rather by more effective conflict prevention and resolution.
The problem of the environmental ramifications of armed conflict has garnered more and more attention in recent years. Events like the deliberate burning of Kuwaiti oil wells during the 1991 Gulf War and the destruction of a chemical facility during the 1998 NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo have raised questions about the extent to which international legal rules can, or should, protect the environment from combat or and punish those who (intentionally or not) damage it during wartime.
Bodansky argues that international lawyers should resist the temptation to create a new body of law designed to implement environmental safeguards during combat. Environmental disasters caused by belligerents, he argues, do not happen very often, and when they do, they have relatively little impact compared to the publicity they receive. Moreover, it is not immediately clear what legal regime could regulate conduct related to such issues. Additionally, wartime environmental destruction, Bodansky writes, is merely a symptom of larger problems relating to armed conflict: decay of rule of law, refugeeism, and the primacy of survival needs. The existing legal framework surrounding warfare, when it functions correctly, addresses these concerns sufficiently to make a new legal regime a hindrance.
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