The Better Instincts of Humanity: Humanitarian Arguments in Debates about International Arms Control


Humanitarian concerns underpin much of contemporary arms control law. Those advocating for (or defending) a ban or restriction on the use of a particular weapon frequently invoke the notion of humanity. They consider some weapons to be excessively injurious to the warfighters of the adversary and other weapons to have indiscriminate effects on civilians. However, appeals to humanity are sometimes also made to advocate against or to reject bans or restrictions on weapons. Such arguments generally seek to point out that a particular weapon inflicts less harm on warfighters or civilians than weapons that might be used in the alternative. In this paper, I give three examples of weapons with respect to which such contradictory appeals to humanity have occurred and offer some reflections on these curious debates.


Rain Liivoja is an Associate Professor at the TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland. He also holds the title of Adjunct Professor of International Law at the University of Helsinki, where he is affiliated with the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights. Rain's current research focuses on the legal and ethical challenges associated with the military applications of science and technology generally and biosciences specifically. His broader research and teaching interest include the law of armed conflict, human rights law and the law of treaties, as well as international and comparative criminal law. Rain serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War, and as a Council member of the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law.

Date: Friday 13 July

Time: 12-1pm

Venue: TC Beirne School of Law, Level 2, Forgan Smith Building, The University of Queensland, St Lucia Room: Sir Harry Gibbs Moot Court (W247)



TC Beirne School of Law
Level 2, Forgan Smith Building
The University of Queensland, St Lucia
Sir Harry Gibbs Moot Court (W247)