Fall 2016

The Path to Last Resort: The Role of Early Warning & Early Action

Jennifer Leaning

For just war doctrine to apply, the last resort requirement to exhaust all measures short-of-war must be fulfilled. Because of research and policy developments in the last fifteen years, the international community is now equipped with a richer understanding of how wars and atrocities evolve through time, improved precision about trigger points and risk factors that may accelerate that evolution, growing consensus on what prevention and mitigation steps to look for in that process, and new technologies for ascertaining these steps in order to intervene when mitigating action might deflect the escalation. It is thus argued that the responsibility of the international community to intervene in a timely and appropriate fashion has become increasingly clear and inescapable. It is further argued that the alert engagement of civil society in crafting this body of research and policy places a heavy public burden on government leaders to demonstrate that indeed all measures short-of-war have been exhausted. We now have at our collective disposal many more measures to deploy and many more witnesses to raise the alarm. Accordingly, the threshold for declaring that last resort has been reached has now become much higher.

JENNIFER LEANING is the François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights and Director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. She is the author of the reports Perilous Medicine: The Legacy of Oppression and Conflict on Health in Kosovo (2009) and The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War in the Conflict in Darfur, Sudan (with Tara Gingerich, 2004). She has published articles in such journals as The New England Journal of Medicine, PLOS ONE, and Conflict and Health.

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