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Legitimate Targets?: A Reply to Jutta Brunnée and Geoff Corn

Published on September 24, 2015        Author: 

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I would like to start by thanking Jutta and Geoffrey for their detailed and very thoughtful comments. I am particularly glad that Geoffrey focused on my interpretation of IHL, bringing to bear his military expertise and that Jutta focused on the theoretical part of the book, which is inspired by her own interactional theory of international law (IL), developed with Stephen Toope. As their comments cover different terrains I will begin by addressing three criticisms contained in Geoffrey’s remarks and then separately engage with Jutta’s discussion of the book.

Geoffrey disagrees with my representation of the role and substance of the principle of proportionality. I should clarify that I agree with Geoffrey’s observation that the principle is not necessarily central to many practitioner’s understanding of legitimate targeting. When I emphasize the principle’s importance, I mean its central place in the ‘architecture’ of IHL. It repeats the very purpose of law to somehow accommodate the regularly opposed imperatives of protecting human life and of allowing belligerents to follow military necessity. In theory, how proportionality is interpreted chiefly determines how much civilian protection and belligerents’ freedom of action respectively IHL affords. In practice, it is rarely mentioned without reference to precautions in attack, as Geoffrey points out, and it is often misunderstood.

Geoffrey also questions my representation of the principle’s substance as asking for something akin to a balance between the anticipated military advantage and expected civilian harm. He states that practitioners rather than seeking such a balance ‘understand that where civilian risk cannot be justified by genuine military interests … there is no utility in the use of combat power’. Though very important, I believe this is not a proportionality judgment, but one of necessity. Read the rest of this entry…


Introduction: Legitimate Targets?

Published on September 22, 2015        Author: 

In 2003 during their invasion of Iraq American troops were commended for going to great pains to comply’ with international law and at the same time they were condemned as the ‘most violent and murderous army’ in American history. The question these dichotomous assessments raise is: what can international law (IL) accomplish in war? What does it mean that conduct in war is subjected to regulation by international humanitarian law (IHL), that belligerents wage war legally? My book, Legitimate Targets? International Law, Social Construction and US Bombing, aspires to providing a comprehensive answer to the question in four steps.

The first part identifies mechanisms by which recourse to IL can make a difference for individual and state behaviour. Given the lack of systematic and reliable enforcement of IL, in International Relations scholarship as well as public commentary, this is still often doubted. I argue that IL, when it is recurred to, can mediate between actor’s interests and normative beliefs. What I call the intellectual and the motivational effects of recourse to IL can change how an actor perceives her reasons for action. IL can be behaviourally relevant.

The book then discusses the legal rules defining a legitimate target of attack contained in the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions and customary law. I address and suggest solutions to a number of subsisting interpretive debates with reference to two alternative logics of how a belligerent can attempt to accommodate the competing demands of humanitarianism and military necessity. What I call the logic of efficiency aims to minimize belligerents’ expenses in time and blood over the achievement of their political goals. The logic of sufficiency aims to contain war to a purely military competition geared towards ‘generic military victory’. The latter is the logic according to which the First Additional Protocol demands that belligerents ‘distribute’ deliberate harm in war. Read the rest of this entry…

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