Power Asymmetry and Change in International Humanitarian Law

This paper traces the impact of asymmetric power-relations on change in international humanitarian law with a focus on divergencies in the regulation of two non-state actors: private military companies and non-state armed groups. Traditionally, such divergencies are explained through the state’s monopoly on the use of force. In contrast, the paper seeks to show that a larger web of asymmetric power-relations determines the diverging paths of legal change of the regulation of those two actors. In this analysis, it highlights in particular the agency of Global North as opposed to Global North countries. The paper demonstrates how the attempt to change IHL regarding non-state actors is deeply structured and motivated by asymmetric power-relations in three respects: 1) militarily regarding the wielding of violent power, 2) economically regarding interests and resources in the conflict and 3) regulatorily regarding the capability to impose one’s norms and to resist such impositions.