Wars of Recovery

Eliav Lieblich*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aggressor state A occupies territory belonging to victim state V. After decades, V decides to go to war to recover its territory, although hostilities have long subsided. Are such 'wars of recovery' lawful under international law? Should they be? Recent conflicts have generated a heated scholarly debate on this question, which has ended in stark disagreement. A permissive approach argues that wars of recovery are lawful instances of self-defence, while a restrictive view claims that situations of prolonged occupation are territorial disputes that should be settled peacefully. This article uncovers the theoretical premises that underlie both approaches. As it shows, the dilemma reflects a larger tension within the contemporary international law on the use of force - mainly, between its traditional focus on state rights such as territory and sovereignty and a competing view that seeks to place individual rights at the core of the legal regime. As the article shows, deciding on the question of wars of recovery requires making commitments in four normative spheres: instrumentally, it requires considering questions of international stability, and, non-instrumentally, it requires considering questions of justice as well as possible justifications for killing and sacrifice. These considerations, however, result in instability owing, among other factors, to the fluctuating effects of the passage of time, which follow our normative assumptions about the legal order. Ultimately, the article suggests that those engaging in debate on wars of recovery make explicit their normative assumptions on the ends of jus ad bellum and that, in any case, even if wars of recovery would be deemed legal, they would still remain heavily contestable owing to strong competing reasons against them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-381
Number of pages33
JournalEuropean Journal of International Law
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 May 2023


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