Thursday :: Jan 8, 2009

Some Advice for the Current Israeli Leadership

by eriposte

Having read all these stories, I'd like to briefly interrupt my ongoing series (focused on developing a broad framework to understand violent conflicts and find working solutions to them) in order to add a few comments regarding civilian casualties.

I understand that pretty much all conflicts lead to unintended civilian casualties. That's an unfortunate consequence of war of any kind. I am even willing to give the Israeli Government the benefit of doubt when they claim they are not deliberately targeting civilians. However, the rules of war, and especially the rules of a counterinsurgency (COIN)-type operation - which is effectively what Israel is running in the Gaza strip today against guerilla-style Hamas militants who operate in the midst of civilians - don't just require the non-targeting of civilians. There are specific responsibilities that go beyond that. For instance, bombing a place just because there are militants in that neighborhood, without due consideration of the damage to noncombatants and properties in the vicinity is really not allowed without adequately factoring in where in the leadership hierarchy the militants emanate from and the marginal value of killing or injuring them. In other words, killing some lowly or even average, armed militants through mortars or bombs that take out large numbers of civilians in addition (even though that wasn't the "intention") is generally not allowed by the rules of war.  Don't take my word for it. Since the Israeli leaders seem to prefer advice from somewhat hawkish sources, excerpted below (emphasis mine) are some passages from the U.S. Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, Chapter 7 - "Leadership and Ethics for Counterinsurgency," pages 247-249.

Proportionality and Discrimination

7-30. The principle of proportionality requires that the anticipated loss of life and damage to property incidental to attacks must not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected to be gained. Proportionality and discrimination require combatants not only to minimize the harm to noncombatants but also to make positive commitments to -

  • Preserve noncombatant lives by limiting the damage they do.
  • Assume additional risk to minimize potential harm.

7-31. Proportionality requires that the advantage gained by a military operation not be exceeded by the collateral harm. The law of war principle of proportionality requires collateral damage to civilians and civilian property not be excessive in relation to the military advantage expected to be gained by executing the operation. Soldiers and Marines must take all feasible precautions when choosing means and methods of attack to avoid and minimize loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects.

7-32. In conventional operations, proportionality is usually calculated in simple utilitarian terms: civilian lives and property lost versus enemy destroyed and military advantage gained. But in COIN operations, advantage is best calculated not in terms of how many insurgents are killed or detained, but rather which enemies are killed or detained. If certain key insurgent leaders are essential to the insurgents' ability to conduct operations, then military leaders need to consider their relative importance when determining how best to pursue them. In COIN environments, the number of civilian lives lost and property destroyed needs to be measured against how much harm the targeted insurgent could do if allowed to escape. If the target in question is relatively inconsequential, then proportionality requires combatants to forego severe action, or seek noncombative means of engagement.


7-36. Discrimination applies to the means by which combatants engage the enemy. [...] Leaders must consider not only the first-order, desired effects of a munition or action but also possible second- and third-order effects - including undesired ones. For example, bombs delivered by fixed-wing close air support may effectively destroy the source of small arms fire from a building in an urban area; however, direct-fire weapons may be more appropriate due to the risk of collateral damage to nearby buildings and noncombatants. [...]

7-37. The principles of discrimination in the use of force and proportionality in actions are important to counterinsurgents for practical reasons as well as for their ethical or moral implications. Fires that cause unnecessary harm or death to noncombatants may create more resistance and increase the insurgency's appeal - especially if the populace perceives a lack of discrimination in their use....


eriposte :: 6:36 AM :: Comments (30) :: Digg It!