Warriors Without Law: Embracing a Spectrum of Status for Military Actors

War today is filled with individuals covered imprecisely, if at all, by the international law of war. The law of war, a largely binary structure, is incapable of classifying the myriad of actors falling somewhere between traditional notions of “combatant” and “civilian.” Though scholars recognize this imprecision among two prominent irregular forces– private military contractors and unlawful combatants–none offer a comprehensive legal revision addressing irregular actors broadly rather than individually. This article offers a new approach that expands both the number of combatant categories and characteristics used to assign actors to these categories. This new structure requires the creation of six new classifications, ranging from traditional, regular combatants to nonparticipating civilians. The new classifications are based on ten characteristics shared by modern forces. The law then maps available privileges and protections to each status classification with an eye towards alignment with the law’s normative purposes. This new scheme will significantly improve the law of war’s ability to precisely ascribe the appropriate protective, targeting, and accountability consequences to today’s battlefield actors.