There is no Civil War in the US

Contrary to what Henry Porter may think, there is no civil war going on in the US. Porter’s claim is based on the total number of firearm deaths in the country: The annual toll from firearms in the US is running at 32,000 deaths and climbing, even though the general crime rate is on a downward path (it is 40% lower than in 1980). If this perennial slaughter doesn’t qualify for intercession by the UN and all relevant NGOs, it is hard to know what does. But total deaths is not the only criteria for a civil war.

Other criteria can be found in the Commentaries to the Geneva Conventions (1949); in particular Common Article 3 of Geneva Convention III.

One is the existence of a “Party in revolt against the de jure government (which) possess an organized military force, an authority responsible for its acts, acting within a determined territory and having the means of respecting and ensuring respect for the Convention.” Second is that “the legal government is obliged to have recourse to the regular military forces against insurgents organized as military and in possession of a part of the national territory.” Third, there must be a recognition of the insurgents as belligerents by the state. Finally the insurgents must have the “characteristics of a state.” Obviously none of these things exist in the US: There is no “insurgency” occurring in the US.

But what of Porter’s more straightforward humanitarian claim? Is there some agreed upon international norm at stake in the number of gun deaths that occur in the US such that “intercession by the UN and all relevant NGOs” is necessary? The US – probably the most important political actor there is –  doesn’t appear to think such a norm exists. And who would enforce this norm anyway?

Though the situation of gun violence is the US is definitely tragic, it is not clear that the world should intervene.