In my first article examining the legality of assassinating known or suspected terrorists through the use of unmanned armed vehicles (UAVs), I argued that the first step is to decide whether such killings could be classified as part of an armed conflict. If they are considered as part of an armed conflict, according to international law, the rules of armed conflict would apply; otherwise the laws of self-defence would be relevant.
According to the Geneva Conventions and customary humanitarian law, armed conflict only applies when two or more States are involved. When the United States defines its campaign against terrorists as a global conflict, this designation is not based on the correct definition of war as characterized by international law but on America’s own interpretation of its effort to eradicate terrorism. Only two or more States can legally, in the strictest terms, engage in war, not a State against individuals scattered around the globe.