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Starvation Must Not Be a Weapon of Mass Destruction

Starvation Must Not Be a Weapon of Mass Destruction

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By Daniel G. Graetzer, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, School of Health Sciences, American Military University

“Let me be clear: The use of starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime” Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary General (2007-2016)

On October 9, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas. And for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

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Despite notable success in fighting hunger and related endeavors to end starvation as “a weapon of war and conflict,” the Rome-based WFP is still projected to fall short of the UN goal to eradicate hunger by 2030. The Nobel Committee said it hopes that bestowing the prize on the UN agency will highlight the need to strengthen global solidarity and cooperation to assist millions at the brink of starvation in an era of independent nationalism.

Siege Warfare and Starvation Have Been Used in War for Centuries

Siege warfare, such as by surrounding a garrison to weaken defenses and cut off reinforcements and vital supplies, has been used as an element of war since antiquity. Although time-consuming and costly, sieges are often more effective and result in less bloodshed and fewer deaths than by engaging the enemy directly.

Its legality received international scrutiny following a 1992–1996 siege in Yugoslavia by Major General Stanislav Galić, who commanded the Bosnian Serb unit that encircled Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Galić was convicted of “inflicting terror” on a civilian population and sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment, a sentence that was increased to life in prison on appeal.

The 1863 Lieber Code signed by President Abraham Lincoln states “it is lawful to starve the hostile belligerent, armed or unarmed, so that it leads to the speedier subjection of the enemy.” Immediately after World War I, the Report of the Commission on Responsibility condemned the “deliberate starvation of civilians” as a violation of the laws and customs of war subject to criminal prosecution. Under a Statute of the International Criminal Court, “intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare” is a war crime in international armed conflicts.

The prohibition of starvation in warfare does not restrict naval blockades, provided there is a clear mission to achieve a military objective, not starve civilians. The San Remo Manual on Naval Warfare and other military manuals further specify that if the civilian population is inadequately provided for, the blockade must provide free passage of humanitarian relief supplies. Embargoes imposed by the UN itself must also comply with these regulations.

2020 Nobel Committee chairperson Berit Reiss-Andersen said, “We are sending a signal to every nation who raises objections to international cooperation” and also “We are sending a signal to this type of nationalism where the responsibility for global affairs is not being faced.”

The award shows the desire of the Norwegian Nobel Committee “to turn the eyes of the world towards the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger” in food-insecure regions being ravaged by international and internal clashes and by the COVID-19 pandemic. The global recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is projected to push an additional 83 million to 132 million people into hunger.

The World Food Program Brings Assistance into Dangerous Regions of the World

The World Food Program brings assistance into the most dangerous regions of the world. The assistance includes air-dropping food into South Sudan and Syria and developing emergency delivery services for food transportation as pandemic restrictions grounded commercial flights. An estimated 690 million (1 in 11) people go to sleep every night on an empty stomach. But resources from the WFP even make deliveries on elephants, camels and on foot.

At the behest of President Dwight Eisenhower, the World Food Program was formally established in 1961. Since then, the WFP has alleviated hunger in crises such as the 1984 Ethiopia famine, the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Organizers say COVID-19 restrictions have forced the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, scheduled for December 10 in Oslo, Norway, to be scaled back.

This is the 12th time the Peace Prize has gone directly to the UN or one of its agencies – more than any other laureate. The prestigious Nobel award comes with a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (1.1 million dollars) following a bequest established in 1895 by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel.

About the Author

Daniel G. Graetzer, Ph.D., received his B.S. from Colorado State University/Fort Collins, MA from the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill, and Ph.D. from the University of Utah/Salt Lake City and has been a faculty member in American Military University’s School of Health Sciences, Department of Sports and Health Sciences, since 2015.

As a regular columnist in encyclopedias and popular magazines, Dr. Graetzer greatly enjoys helping bridge communication gaps between recent breakthroughs in biomedical knowledge, practical application of developing scientific theories, and societal well-being. He has obtained AMU funding to research the productive versus destructive uses of modern science as related to the development, production, and deployment of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Dr. Graetzer looks forward to collaborating with AMU military students to further investigate the numerous physical and mental stressors experienced by tactical athletes within variety of combat environments.

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