Starting Wars Over Climate Change

Posted on: 25 March 2021 by Jasmin Johurun Nessa, Postgraduate Research Student & Graduate Teaching Assistant in Liverpool Law School. in Blog

Climate Crisis Pollution photo by Patrick Hendry 684x355
Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash.

As we isolate in our homes, socialise over Zoom and forward virtual hugs to one another, we have watched a virus sweep the world, indiscriminately causing devastation. Viruses do not care for territorial borders. Unfortunately, neither do the effects of climate change - all states are open to ‘attack’.

Jasmin Johurun Nessa appears as guest host in episode 17 of the JIB/JAB-The Laws of War Podcast. She interviews Professor Craig Martin from Washburn University, United States, about his article, ‘Atmospheric Intervention? The Climate Change Crisis and the Jus ad Bellum Regime’, which discusses the prospect of states starting wars over climate change.

Jasmin Johurun Nessa as guest podcast editor

The Climate Change Crisis

In episode 17 of the JIB/JAB-The Laws of War Podcast, I interview Professor Craig Martin, who argues in his article that, as the climate change crisis deepens, we will see massive migration, droughts, famines, epidemics and increasing conflicts over the shifting availability of water and food. Tribalism and nationalism will increase. The ignorance and denial that has dominated most public response to climate change will be replaced by fear and a sense of crisis. In turn, we will see demands for governments to take urgent action against ‘climate rogue states’ i.e. states that are making recklessly excessive and flagrantly unlawful contributions to climate change.

When can a State Resort to Force?

Photo of Soldier helmet by Israel Palacio

Photo by Israel Palacio on Unsplash.


The jus ad bellum regime refers to the conditions under which a state can resort to the use of force against another state. It is centred around the general prohibition on the use of force in international law. However, there are two generally accepted exceptions to this prohibition. Namely, a state may resort to the use of force if:

(1) the United Nations Security Council authorises the use of force or;

(2) the state is exercising its right of self-defence.

Martin explains in episode 17 of the JIB/JAB-The Laws of War Podcast that, as the climate change crisis deepens, there will be pressure to relax the jus ad bellum regime to allow for the use of force against climate rogue states. Martin anticipates that the relaxation of the jus ad bellum regime may occur in either of the following two ways:

(i) the expansion of the doctrine of self-defence or;

(ii) the creation of a new exception to permit collective but unilateral ‘atmospheric intervention’.

While Martin suggests that these arguments will be persuasive and likely to gain traction as the crisis worsens, he is very clear that in his view, such efforts to relax the jus ad bellum regime should be resisted. He argues that we must begin the discussions now on how climate change will implicate the jus ad bellum regime so that we can contemplate how to resist such developments.

Time for Debating Change is Now

Soundcloud graphic for Jib Jab podcast

 ‘Episode 17 – Nessa Interviews Martin on Climate Change and the Jus ad Bellum Regime’: listen to the full podcast episode on either Soundcloud or Spotify.

During episode 17 of the JIB/JAB-The Laws of War Podcast, Martin answers questions on the consequence of framing climate change as a focus of national security and whether securitizing climate change can be seen to be militarizing climate change. Martin also addresses the concerns that his article may be seen to be providing a blueprint for states wanting to use force against climate rogue states in the future. Further, Martin discusses the potential for any relaxation of the jus ad bellum regime to be disproportionately employed against developing or weaker states, compounding some of the deepest equity and justice problems inherent in the very nature of the climate change crisis.

In order to reject and resist any form of expansion to the jus ad bellum regime, Martin argues that we have to start talking about this now because climate change will become the worst threat to international peace and security that we have ever seen — and expanding the jus ad bellum regime as a means of enforcing climate change law will likely be counterproductive, and ultimately worsen the crisis.


Jasmin Johurun Nessa PGR and GTA in Law

Jasmin Johurun Nessa

Jasmin Johurun Nessa joined the School of Law as a PhD Candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant in 2015. Jasmin is also Co-General Editor of the Journal on the Use of Force and International Law’s Digest of State Practice.

Jasmin’s doctoral research focuses on state practice in examining the evidentiary standard of self-defence in international law. Her research interests lie in the field of international peace and security and the use of force in international law.