You might think that the Hague Conventions, the Geneva Conventions, the Declaration of Human Rights, the work of the United Nations and the existence of the International Criminal Court in The Hague would be sufficient to deter governments and individual political leaders and military officers from either giving orders that lead to war crimes and crimes against humanity or failing to punish their own troops when the commit such atrocities. But, as we have seen here, this is by no means the case. Why?
First, the nature of war has changed since the beginning of the 20th century. There have always been sieges of cities which have led to civilian deaths and famine and disease have always accompanied war. But many of the wars listed above have been civil wars and each side has assumed that their opponents have been supported by local civilian populations. In some of the other wars a state, using its regular army, has been in conflict with insurgents or guerrilla forces who cannot easily be distinguished from civilians and often merge into the local populations.
Also the major powers now rely heavily on aerial bombing, missiles and unmanned planes or drones which do not necessarily distinguish between military targets and civilian populations. This is partly a result of new military technologies but it also reflects the fact that since the Vietnam war the mass media has kept domestic populations informed of what is happening, particularly the numbers of soldiers killed in action. As a result governments prefer to fight wars “at a distance” rather than engage directly with the enemy.