Processes of juridification are a defining feature of late modern war. But geographic accounts of war have generally not considered the role that law plays in shaping its conduct. This paper explores the juridification of war using the concept of lawfare. Lawfare may signal an intensification and shift in the relationship between war and law, but I argue that understanding the nature and extent of these changes requires a careful examination of the historical geographies of war, law and lawfare. Drawing from critical legal approaches I offer a preliminary geographical and historical theorization of lawfare so that we may better understand the relationship between war and law today. 

In this paper I draw on interviews conducted with former Israeli military lawyers about their role in lethal targeting operations. I argue that military lawyers and the practice of operational law help to legitimize and extend violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. To make the case I focus on Israel’s ‘targeted killing policy’ (2000–present) and on the involvement of military lawyers in the planning and execution stages of targeting operations. I offer two contributions to the literature on war and law; first, I extend Derek Gregory’s analysis of the ‘kill chain’ by arguing that targeting is increasingly made possible by a ‘technolegal’ process. Second, I add nuance to Eyal Weizman’s account of how law extends violence in what he calls the ‘humanitarian present’. I argue that we must attend not only to international humanitarian law and different scales of law but to the simultaneously plural and overlapping legal regimes that govern late modern war. I conclude with a reflection on Judith Butler’s Frames of War to think through the ways in which ‘frames of law’ have come to structure our apprehension of targeting and war today. 

To some degree war has always entailed its rhetorics of justification and regimes of authorization. Today, however, war and law have become inseparable; now more than ever, war requires a legal armature to secure its legitimacy and organize its conduct. Our introduction (and the special issue more broadly) investigates this lethal conjunction of law and war across space and time. To capture the interplay of war, law and space-time, we conceive them as forming a kind of nexus or set of entanglements. Adapting legal geographer Nick Blomley’s (1989) concept of the “law-space nexus”, we call this the war/ law/space nexus. Our discussion highlights some of its main features and introduces the subsequent papers that make up this special issue. 

In recent years there has been a huge amount of interest in drone warfare and targeted killing. Unsurprisingly, the focus has been on the ever-expanding US targeted killing program. In this chapter I argue that contemporary US targeted killing is rooted in important ways in a juridical form of assassination invented and developed by Israel in the early 2000s. I draw on ideas of mobile and travelling law to demonstrate how a ‘legal right to kill’ asserted by Israeli war lawyers was subsequently adopted, and later expanded, by the US military. Israeli and US targeted killing does not simply ignore law; it takes place through it and international law especially has become a key means through which violence is legitimated and extended. The result is a juridical violence that that is rewriting the very boundaries and meaning of war.