Targeted Killing as a Method of Warfare - Challenges and Opportunities

Posted: 8 Sep 2012 Last revised: 26 Nov 2013

See all articles by Sascha Dov Bachmann

Sascha Dov Bachmann

Bournemouth University - The Media School; Swedish Defence University (FHS); Bournemouth University

Date Written: September 6, 2012


What is targeted killing, and is it lawful and legitimate? All aspects of this question have sparked some controversy, and sometimes even confusion. At the heart of the legal analysis stands the question regarding the choice of legal framework applicable to such a method of warfare – either the law of armed conflict or international human rights law. This question also reflects on an underlying, highly politicized, challenge: whether States are limited in their response to serious violence caused by terrorism and acts of irregular, asymmetric war. The nature of targeted killing as a method of warfare and with it its lawfulness and legitimacy also impact on the foundations of international law: State sovereignty. This article argues that State sovereignty continues to be relevant in the context of asymmetric conflict and with it the inherent right of a State to self defence. It argues that international law does not ban ‘targeted killing’ per se, referring to the kinetic neutralization of adversarial individuals during armed conflict, which is based on a targeting process designed to ensure full adherence to the fundamental principles of the law of armed conflict. Targeted killing reportedly forms part of the operational practice of multiple States as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; depending on the circumstances it represents one option of the lawful use of force in armed conflict or assimilated situations. This article reviews key aspects of the legal and legal policy discourse regarding targeted killing and invites to critical debate.

Keywords: Targeted Killing, Operation Neptune Spear, Hybrid Threats, NATO, Usama Bin Ladin, USA, War on Terrorism

Suggested Citation

Bachmann, Sascha-Dominik Oliver Vladimir, Targeted Killing as a Method of Warfare - Challenges and Opportunities (September 6, 2012). Available at SSRN:

Sascha-Dominik Oliver Vladimir Bachmann (Contact Author)

Bournemouth University - The Media School ( email )

Bournemouth, BH12 5BB
United Kingdom

Swedish Defence University (FHS) ( email )

114 28, Drottning Kristinas väg 37
Stockholm, 114 28

HOME PAGE: http://

Bournemouth University ( email )

Bournemouth, BH1
United Kingdom


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