In This Review
War and Law Since 1945

War and Law Since 1945

By Geoffrey Best

Oxford University Press, 1994, 434 pp.

Two different, complementary, and important books. Howard, Andreopoulos, and Shulman have edited a fine collection of essays that are organized chronologically and are generally clear, concise, and informative. Particularly notable are Josiah Ober's summary of restraints in Greek warfare, which he argues generally served the interests of the hoplite class, and Gunther Rothenberg's intriguing contention that ancien régime standards of restraint survived the Napoleonic revolution in warfare. Adam Roberts is blunt on the paradox of the progression of a formal international law of war and the horrors that accompanied its bloody conduct during the first half of this century. The volume's only flaw is its scant attention to limitations on war in Asian societies, most notably Japan and China.

Geoffrey Best focuses more on international humanitarian law per se and, as his title suggests, the contemporary period. A hard-headed (and somewhat disillusioned) idealist, he discusses politics and institutions as well as formal law. His description of the post-World War II reconstruction of international law on humanitarian conduct is particularly interesting. Neither volume suggests a grand conclusion, save that humanitarian restraint in war most certainly does occur, but not without favorable preconditions and considerable effort by the combatants. Nor would any of these authors contend that war is becoming more restrained, except, perhaps, when waged by the most developed states.