Targeted Killings: Contemporary Challenges, Risks and Opportunities

Journal of Conflict and Security Law, Volume 18, Issue 2, 1 July 2013, Pages 259–288,

30 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2013 Last revised: 16 Mar 2018

See all articles by Sascha Dov Bachmann

Sascha Dov Bachmann

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

Date Written: January 29, 2013


The use of drones and other forms of targeted killings are being increasingly criticized at the international and domestic level. Before the backdrop of the most recent news that the United Nations has launched an inquiry into the overall legality of such a method of warfare and counter-terrorism and its associated loss of civilian life, this article aims to give an overview on targeted killings as a means of warfare. The article asks what constitutes targeted killing and what distinguishes it from assassinations. It reflects on the safeguards, which are necessary to ensure the legality of the targeting process. This article further introduces the reader to an updated account of the use of Unmanned Combat Aircraft Systems, or ‘drones’, in targeted killings, employed as a means of warfare by the US in its ‘War on Terror’. The US drone campaign in Pakistan also raises questions in respect to State Sovereignty and potential violations of this central tenet of International Law. The article will also touch upon another field of global security, so called ‘Hybrid Threats’, where the use of targeted killing may have an operational military benefit as part of a holistic counterstrategy. It concludes with a sobering warning that while targeted killing operations may be an effective means of achieving short term tactical goals within the scope of a wider operational objective, the unregulated and increased use of targeting killings by the US in the ‘War on Terror’ would be both immoral as well as illegal in the long run.

Keywords: Targeted Killings, Hybrid War, Asymmetric Warfare, Targeted Killing as Combat, Law of Armed Conflict, Neptune Spear, Moral Implications, UCAS

Suggested Citation

Bachmann, Sascha-Dominik Oliver Vladimir, Targeted Killings: Contemporary Challenges, Risks and Opportunities (January 29, 2013). Journal of Conflict and Security Law, Volume 18, Issue 2, 1 July 2013, Pages 259–288, Available at SSRN: or

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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