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‘It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a non-international armed conflict!’: cross-border hostilities between states and non-state actors

Moir, Lindsay



Caroline Harvey

James Summers

Nigel D. White


© Cambridge University Press 2014. All rights reserved. A contention may, of course, arise between armed forces of a State and a body of armed individuals, but this is not war. [M]odern conflict often does not appear to fit nicely into the strict traditional legal concepts of what constitutes international or non-international ‘armed conflict’. Key to the effective legal regulation of any armed conflict is the identification of precisely what the nature of that armed conflict is. Only by disposing of the question as to whether a particular armed conflict is to be classified as either international or non-international in character can the applicable set of IHL rules be determined. This has important consequences both for the regulation of hostilities and for the imposition of individual criminal responsibility for breaches of the relevant law in that – despite a growing tendency to see both as subject to many of the same humanitarian norms – clear (and important) differences still exist, perhaps especially in terms of the absence of combatant status for insurgent forces in non-international armed conflicts. Accordingly, international and non-international armed conflicts remain subject to separate legal regimes, a position amply illustrated by their separate treatment in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. International armed conflicts are governed by the full range of IHL, whereas non-international armed conflicts are regulated by the much more limited provisions of common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, possibly also by Additional Protocol II 1977 (depending on the circumstances), as well as by an apparently burgeoning set of customary IHL rules. Thus, despite occasional suggestions to the contrary, the accurate classification of any given armed conflict as either international or non-international retains its importance, and it is necessary critically to assess recent assertions that these two categories are no longer sufficient.


Moir, L. (2014). ‘It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a non-international armed conflict!’: cross-border hostilities between states and non-state actors. In C. Harvey, J. Summers, & N. D. White (Eds.), Contemporary challenges to the laws of war (71-94). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Acceptance Date May 1, 2014
Publication Date 2014-11
Deposit Date May 16, 2019
Journal Contemporary Challenges to the Laws of War
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Pages 71-94
Book Title Contemporary challenges to the laws of war
ISBN 9781107478725; 9781107063556
Public URL
Publisher URL