Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Committee Member

David Fott

Second Committee Member

Michael Bowers

Third Committee Member

Mark Lutz

Fourth Committee Member

David Tanenhaus

Number of Pages



There is a debate taking place within the global war on terror (GWT), and its legal and moral parameters are established by two basic arguments. The first is that “Citizens who associate themselves with the military arm of the enemy government, and with its aid, guidance and direction enter this country bent on hostile acts are enemy belligerents within the meaning of the Hague Convention and the law of war” (Ex parte Quirin, 37). The second is that an “Enemy combatant” is a general category that subsumes two sub-categories: lawful and unlawful combatants. The conclusion as it currently stands is that under international law only lawful combatants receive POW status and the protections of the Third Geneva Convention. Unlawful combatants, on the other hand, do not receive POW status and do not receive the full protections of the Third Geneva Convention (Haynes 2002, 2). Within the context and legal framework of the GWT nonstate actors may be treated differently from state actors when captured and interrogated (Haynes 2002, 2). The legal framework finds its basis in international law, which in turn finds its moral basis in part on conditions of just war theory (JWT). JWT requires combatants to possess legitimacy; to possess legitimacy a combatant must be a state actor; therefore, nonstate actors “do not receive Prisoner Of War status and do not receive the full protections of the Third Geneva Convention” (Haynes 2002, 2).

My research question asks if JWT should be modified or abandoned in order to accommodate greater fairness toward armed nonstate actors, those individuals to whom we commonly refer, and legally define as terrorists? For two reasons the answer to this question is yes: (i) man has an inherent value that is not recognized under JWT, and (ii) the utility of criminal prosecutions for those engaged in political violence is higher relative to the desirability of the goal of greater peace, security, and stability.

To arrive at my conclusion I traced the evolution of the school of thought that makes up JWT and I analyzed its applicability to modern international relations – specifically international relations in the context of nonstate actors. My analysis found that JWT is both still relevant in the twenty-first century and applicable to nonstate actors who challenge the modern state and international institutions with the use of force and JWT is not relevant in the twenty-first century and is thus inapplicable to nonstate actors who challenge both the modern state and international institutions with respect to the use of force. Nevertheless, given the supposed goals of international law, the international community and specifically the U.S. ought to treat nonstate actors as criminals and prosecute them accordingly. To engage in an ideological war like the GWT is to litigate anew the competing ideas of justice. Finally, in critically thinking through the substance of the logical syllogisms that make up both JWT and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights I find JWT is simply not universally valid as it is neither a metaphysical truth nor a transcendental one; therefore, JWT is important only insofar as it is understood to be but one way of seeing the world, not the universally correct way.


Foreign policy; International law; International relations; Just war; Philosophy; Terrorism


International Relations | Philosophy

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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