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

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This article examines how a discourse of crime and justice is beginning to play a significant 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 manifestations 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 authority, fundamentally based on military power as a source of social power.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-162
Number of pages24
JournalPunishment and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015


  • war, crime, justice, international criminal law, politics.


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