Crime, justice and the legitimacy of military power in the international sphere

AuthorTeresa Degenhardt
Published date01 April 2015
Date01 April 2015
Subject MatterArticles
Punishment & Society
2015, Vol. 17(2) 139–162
!The Author(s) 2015
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1462474515577154
Crime, justice and the
legitimacy of military
power in the
international sphere
Teresa Degenhardt
Queen’s University Belfast, UK
This article examines how a discourse of crime and justice is beginning to play a sig-
nificant role in justifying international military operations. It suggests that although the
coupling of war with crime and justice is not a new phenomenon, its present manifest-
ations invite careful consideration of the connection between crime and political theory.
It starts by reviewing the notion of sovereignty to look then at the history of the
criminalisation of war and the emergence of new norms to constrain sovereign
states. In this context, it examines the three ways in which military force has recently
been authorised: in Iraq, in Libya and through drones in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. It
argues the contemporary coupling of military technology with notions of crime and
justice allows the reiteration of the perpetration of crimes by the powerful and the
representation of violence as pertaining to specific dangerous populations in the space
of the international. It further suggests that this authorises new architectures of author-
ity, fundamentally based on military power as a source of social power.
crime, drones, human rights, international criminal justice, military intervention,
While in office, US President George W Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
described the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as a way to enforce
Corresponding author:
TeresaDegenhardt, School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast, 6 College
Park, Belfast, BT1 7LP, Northern Ireland, UK.
justice, saying: ‘Terrorists will be brought to justice’; ‘They are guilty and they will
face justice’; ‘Saddam is a murderous tyrant’ and so on (Blair, 2001, 2003; Bush,
2001, 2002). By the same token, on 2 May 2011, US President Barak Obama
announced Osama bin Laden had been killed during a US military raid in
Pakistan, describing the operation as ‘pursuing justice’ (Obama, 2011). The
recent intervention in Libya was heralded by the UN as a way to ‘stop the
crimes against humanity committed by Colonel Gaddafi’ (UN Resolution 1973/
2011). Similar language has been used to define the situation in Syria, with UN
officials accusing the Syrian regime of committing ‘crimes against humanity’
(Borger and Beaumont, 2012) and suggesting the international community was
contemplating a ‘punitive strike’.
Discourses around military operations increasingly describe armed violence in
terms embedded in the discourse of crime and justice, implying the existence of an
international criminal justice system.
Officially, military force can legitimately be
used for self-defence purposes outside the state; typically its use is authorised by a
sovereign power to avert external threats, usually another state’s army or internal
militia groups. But military might is increasingly becoming disentangled from the
notion of state defence and legitimated as a tool to enforce international law
(Mueller, 2004; Shaw, 2003), particularly international criminal law (ICL). The
umbrella term ‘international criminal justice’ has been widely used to refer to a
plurality of responses by the international community to mass atrocities and
crimes since the early 1990s, culminating in the recent establishment of the
International Criminal Court (ICC) (Boas, 2012). Even so, this cannot be called a
system, especially as no cluster of effective supranational institutions exists to enforce
international criminal law (Damaska, 2008). Nevertheless, the establishment of ad
hoc courts or public indictments by the Office of the Prosecutor are often paired with
military interventions, giving the semblance of an officially recognised justice process.
These practices demand a criminological understanding as they bring crime and
justice to the international level; in addition, they touch on issues of crime control,
coercion and state violence both within and outside the parameters of punishment
(Lazarus et al., 2013). They point to elements of the penal and its reconstitution
within the international sphere, through mechanisms that cannot clearly be sub-
sumed to state punishment.
Criminologists have criticised the use of the military to control crime, noting the
deleterious effects of this practice in respect to democratic principles and the rule of
law (Kraska, 2001). Similarly, the ‘war on terrorism’ is criticised for disregarding
democratic principles, using fear to construct and fight a racialised other (Delmas-
Marty, 2007; Huq and Muller, 2008; Krasmann, 2007; Me
´gret, 2002; Simon, 2007:
259). While important, these analyses are mostly conducted within what Ulrich Beck
(2002) calls ‘methodological nationalism’. They are limited to single state contexts
and, thus, do not consider that crime and justice enacted through military means
across various political and structural spaces may have more complex effects. In
what follows, I argue they must be analysed in a broader context as they act at a
global level and involve actors who cannot be restricted to the national field.
140 Punishment & Society 17(2)

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT