In This Review

War and the Law of Nations: A General History
War and the Law of Nations: A General History
By Stephen C. Neff
Cambridge University Press, 2005, 455 pp

Especially when it comes to matters of war and peace, international law tends to be spoken of with either great reverence or great derision, but less often with great understanding. Neff offers a history rather than a guidebook of the subject, but the context he provides is exactly what is needed to establish the relevance of the subject and illuminate the extent to which law and war have influenced each other. He traces the development of the legal concept of war -- from the early view that it could only be justified if clear wrongs were being righted, to the notion that it was normal state activity with effects that could be managed with laws, to the more fluid concept of the current era, when these rules no longer seem appropriate and the key legal questions revolve around aggression and self-defense. He covers a lot of ground, often in telling detail, and the result is a long book. Still, it is a shame that it could not have been a bit longer, as a number of issues -- including guerrilla war and the role of disarmament and arms control negotiations as a means of regulating and containing warfare -- are notably absent.