At the vanishing point of law? : international law and the use of force by Britain and Canada in the Korean War and Afghanistan Conflict
This thesis examines important aspects of Canada and Britain’s participation in the Korean War of 1950-53 and the Afghanistan Conflict of 2001-present with a view to better understanding how international law influenced this participation, and whether key leaders and officials understood said law as a binding and distinct phenomenon. It draws on constructivist International Relations (IR) theory and “interactional” International Law (IL) theory, and employs a method of historical reconstruction and process tracing. I argue that, contrary to what realism might predict, international law helped define and shape each state’s possible course of action in the wars, and the justifications that could be made for their behaviour. More specifically, Canada and Britain’s involvement in the conflicts suggests that, when states use force, international law can play four broad roles: 1) it helps constitute the identities of the actors at issue; 2) it helps regulate the political and military practice of the actors at issue; 3) it permits and legitimates certain political and military practices that otherwise might not be permitted; and 4) it helps structure the process by which agents seek to develop and promote new legal rules and legitimate practice. However, I also contend that, contrary to what IL scholars might predict, the discourse and actions of Canadian and British leaders and officials during the Korean War and Afghanistan Conflict offer mixed support for the hypothesis that, when states use force, policy-makers understand international law as a binding and distinct set of legal rules, and the legal status of these rules impacts their decision-making. In sum, my findings suggest that international law can play important roles in world politics and the use of force by states, but it is unclear whether these effects are attributable to an obligatory quality in law.