Études de l'Ifri Focus Stratégique
War - no justice concept. Military silhouettes fighting scene and The Statue of Justice on a dark toned foggy background.

Towards a War of Norms ? From Lawfare to Legal Operations Focus stratégique, No. 108, April 2022

Defined as the use of law to establish, perpetuate, or change power relations in order to counter an adversary, lawfare practices reflect a reality that is inherent in international law.


Resulting from compromises between states, international law expresses political-strategic power relations that lawfare seeks to manipulate in four main ways:

  • adjusting legal constraints by reinterpreting existing norms
  • establishing new norms through legal lobbying as a power strategy
  • mobilizing legal effects to coerce an actor through strategic litigation
  • using law as a reputational weapon

Although lawfare is controversial when understood as a misuse of the rule of law, it is now being institutionalized. While states do not claim direct responsibility for acts of lawfare, the increasing use of legal vectors to achieve political-strategic ends is a notable feature of the disruptions at work in the international system. States have always used the law for strategic purposes, but recent developments—the proliferation of courts of justice, the increasing media coverage of conflicts, and the growing confusion between legality and legitimacy—tend to favor a greater instrumentalization of the law.



This content is available in French: Vers une guerre des normes ? Du lawfare aux opérations juridiques.

Towards a War of Norms ? From Lawfare to Legal Operations
Law Lawfare Political-Strategic Power Relations France Israel Russia United States