Naval War College professor selected for International Four Societies Conference

Official photo of U.S. Army Maj. David Lai

NEWPORT, R.I. – U.S. Army Maj. David Lai, a military professor in U.S. Naval War College’s Stockton Center for the Study of International Law, was recently selected to be one of four American presenters at the 7th Annual International Four Societies Conference.

Lai was selected by the American Society of International Law (ASIL) to speak at the conference.

The theme for year’s conference is, “Changing Actors in International Law.”

The Japan Society of International Law will be hosting the conference in Tokyo this June, and it will be co-sponsored by the International Law Societies of Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Lai will be presenting his research on gray zone conflicts. The gray zone has neither peace nor armed conflict, but the indeterminate space between.

“Within the gray zone, we see a resurgence of masqueraded proxy warfare where countries resort to state-backed militias, disguised armed forces, and criminal activities to achieve military ends short of war,” said Lai. “These challenges between states have become sufficiently hostile that one cannot pretend amity, but not so violent as to admit armed conflict. As such, international humanitarian law typically is not triggered, while the laws of peace and human rights have proven inadequate to deter such conduct.”

In Asia, China has successfully employed gray zone strategies throughout the East and South China Sea, as well as on land, along the Sino-Indian border. In Eastern Europe, Russia has repeatedly resorted to unconventional warfare via proxy paramilitaries and disguised state forces to annex disputed territories.

As old disputes reach a boil and become increasingly aggressive, the rest of the world struggles to counter this rush to the bottom.

International law has not fared better. 

Lai’s article considers the legal challenges that such gray zone operations raise. It discusses the status, privileges and responsibilities of these proxy militias and disguised armed forces under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

Additionally, it reconsiders whether an intermediate body of international law, the status mixtus, could best address this new era of hostile peace where states are willing to test the limits of international law.

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