The Law and Politics of a Norm Violation: Punitivity and the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979

Matt MacDonald


In the law and politics of jus ad bellum, three typical types of justifications for war have existed in the historical record, namely self-defence, preventative war, and punitive war. Since 1945, only self-defence in line with article 51 of the UN charter and UNSC authorized operations are legitimate according to the UN charter. However, as we have seen particularly since the end of the Cold War, punitivity has become an integral part of the justification to go to war with examples such as the 1st or 2nd Gulf War or the Libyan Civil War. This paper will seek to illuminate the importance of understanding the norm violation of punitivity in jus ad bellum since 1945 following a prohibition on the use of force. The Sino-Vietnamese war will serve as an example of one of the most overtly punitive wars from 1945-1991 which was met with little blowback from the international community, thus begging the question: how strong is the norm against punitivity in the law and politics of jus ad bellum, and what structural foci enable the continued integration of punitivity in war? 

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Copyright (c) 2016 Matt MacDonald

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