Saturday, July 05, 2008

Targeting and the Just War Theory 
Megan McArdle is attending a conference in Aspen with Stephen Carter, who is giving a talk on proportionality under the Just War theory.

I can't tell how much of this is Carter and how much of this is McArdle, but I had to respond to this passage from McArdle's post:

Carter is now discussing the problems inherent in the twin principles enshrined in both just war theory: proportionality and discrimination.

Proportionality means that you should use the method that will produce the fewest casualties. But taken to its logical extreme, this would dictate that commanders are obligated to take an objective in a way that kills 100 of their guys and 200 of their guys, instead of in a way that kills 10 of your guys and 1,000 of their guys. Indeed, some proponents of international law do argue this. But it is morally thorny (and you can then start asking what minimizes net casualties over the course of the war, rather than current ones). Moreover, if you have a theory of war that tells commanders they should sacrifice large numbers of their men to save the enemy, you will have a theory of war that is never applied to an actual war.
The problem of discrimination is also difficult. We think of just war theory as telling us that you can't target civilians, but in fact it says you can't target "non-combatants"--that's why you can't shoot prisoners. But this becomes extremely difficult. Who is a non-combatant? The cooks? A general back at headquarters? Infantry troops who happen to be asleep?

My response (also in her comments:)

I hope Carter is a little smarter than to use the examples given here. For example, there is NO doubt, NONE, that a general back at headquarters is a combatant. There is NO doubt, NONE, under international law, the law of land warfare, or anywhere else, that infantry troops asleep are noncombatants. There NEVER has been, EVER. There is NO doubt, NONE, that cooks in the direct service of an army at war are combatants.

This isn't a Golden Gloves boxing match we're talking about, Megan. It's war.

If I were a maneuver commander, at war, I would deliberately bypass alert, awake combat units to kill a sleeping general at his headquarters in a heartbeat. I would also bypass them to kill cooks. This is at the heart of maneuver warfare doctrine: When attacking, bypass the enemy's strengths (his combat arms units) and focus on critical vulnerabilities.

And you know what? Overall casualties are MUCH, MUCH lower that way. Once winning without fighting becomes impossible, then it is my obligation to win by destroying my enemy's ability to make war by crippling his command, control and logistics. In other words, by avoiding contact with his warriors as much as I can, or fixing them in place, and attacking his rear. I have a professional responsibility to AVOID a war of attrition, (using infantry against infantry,) if that's possible. (Natch, the enemy will be doing his best to KEEP me from focusing on his rear, and sometimes we'll lock horns and the result is a battle of attrition until someone surrenders or withdraws.)

The gray areas aren't where you state. The gray areas are really factory workers, civilian clerks and typists who work in the enemy's defense ministry, foreign ministry, and secret police headquarters, and people who work at civilian radio stations and TV stations which are commandeered by the enemy for the purpose of militarily relevant communications and other support for the war effort.

Is it justified, for example, to destroy a building from the air that normally has a hundred civilian typists and copier repairmen and snack bar workers and janitors in it? If you strike it, should you strike it after hours, KNOWING you will only kill the janitors? Or should you strike it during business hours, killing everyone there, including single mother handicapped minority lesbian typists, knowing that if you take out one ministry, the other government buildings will experience a mysterious increase in sick calls and absenteeism.

If you make the strike, will you shorten the war? Will you kill FEWER people overall as a result? That's where the gray area is.
But a General back at the rear? No question. Kill him. AND his driver, AND his radio telephone operator, AND his cook, AND his stenographer, AND his aide de camp, AND his security detail, AND the guys who update his maps and make sure his headquarters has plenty of staplers, acetate and printer toner.

If any "theorist" doesn't understand the importance of focusing my combat power against WEAKNESS, not strength, and the importance of attacking my enemy's command and control nodes and lines of logistics and communication, rather than on his fighters, this is a theorist who needs to find a new line of work.

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Something I read in a book on Afghanistan: "If you're fighting fair, you're probably doing something wrong..."
"There is NO doubt, NONE, under international law, the law of land warfare, or anywhere else, that infantry troops asleep are noncombatants."

That actually surprised me. Did I read that right?
Infantry troops are not targets if they are sleeping?

How do you go about determining if they are asleep or not before attacking?
er, as is clear from the context, that should read "combatants," not "noncombatants."

I won't edit at this time, since this is a verbatim reproduction on what's on the McArdle thread.
If it wears a uniform, it's a legal target.

That's why those who refuse to wear uniforms must not be granted *any* of the protections of those who wear them.

Armies didn't shoot folks "as spies" solely because they thought they were transmitting valuable military data to the enemy.
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