Lawfare is one of several alternative war-making concepts outlined in the 1999 Chinese book Unrestricted Warfare, which is principally concerned with the new variety of offensive actions available to an international actor that cannot confront another power militarily. "Lawfare" is a form of warfare waged by using the nascent field of international law to attack an opponent on moral grounds: "international law warfare (seizing the earliest opportunity to set up regulations), etc.,"

Lawfare in Unrestricted Warfare

In the book, Lawfare is described as "International Law Warfare" and is mentioned alongside several other means by which offensive action may be carried to the enemy without force of arms. In a more detailed aside, it is further described as "Seizing the earliest opportunity to set up regulations." The book notes that powerful nations take a prerogative to make their own rules, but at the same token bind themselves with them. A second actor could circumvent these regulations because it is not similarly bound by them. Thus, it would be a serious disadvantage to the powerful nation, allowing the smaller nation comparative freedom.

Use in concert with other means of Unrestricted Warfare

The book Unrestricted Warfare calls for many of these forces to be used in concert against an opponent. Lawfare could be used in concert with "media warfare" (i.e. propaganda) to bring enormous public pressure against an operation by a target power. Such an attack would weaken the enemy's resolve, as contrasted with the strengthening of resolve that follows a traditional offensive action. Such methods are best used in an orchestrated campaign.

Origin of the Term

Perhaps the first use of the term "lawfare" was in a manuscript, Whither Goeth the Law - Humanity or Barbarity. The authors there argue the Western legal system has become overly contentious and utilitarian as compared to the more humanitarian, norm-based Eastern system. They opine the search for truth has been replaced by "lawfare" in the courts.

A more frequently cited use of the term was coined by Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. in a 2001 essay he authored for Harvard's Carr Center. In that essay, Dunlap defines lawfare as "the use of law as a weapon of war. He later expanded on the definition, explaining lawfare was "the exploitation of real, perceived, or even orchestrated incidents of law-of-war violations being employed as an unconventional means of confronting" a superior military power.


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