It’s a Crime, but Is It a Blunder? The Efficacy of Targeting Civilians in War
51 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 17 Aug 2010
Date Written: 2010
Is systematically targeting an adversary’s civilians in war an effective military strategy? This paper assesses the historical record of civilian victimization and interstate war outcomes from 1816 to 2003. We begin by disaggregating civilian victimization into two distinct types: coercive victimization — in which a belligerent targets an adversary’s civilians to persuade their government to surrender — and eliminationist victimization — where a belligerent removes members of a target group from a certain piece of territory. Because the logic underpinning these two types of civilian victimization is different, we examine their efficacy separately. We find that the efficacy of both types of victimization is contingent on the regime type of the target state. Coercive targeting is effective when used against anocracies, whereas eliminationist victimization is effective against all types of nondemocracies. We also find that the effectiveness of eliminationist targeting has declined over time. Brief case studies of the Siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and British counterinsurgency strategy in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) help to illustrate our findings and reveal further nuances regarding the relative efficacy of different varieties of civilian victimization.
Keywords: Civilian Victimization, Interstate War
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