'On Target': Precision and Balance in the Contemporary Law of Targeting

7 Journal of National Security and Policy 379-409 (2014)

32 Pages Posted: 21 May 2014 Last revised: 19 Jan 2015

See all articles by Michael N. Schmitt

Michael N. Schmitt

Naval War College - Stockton Center for the Study of International Law; University of Exeter Law School; Lieber Institute, USMA at West Point

Eric Widmar

Stockton Center for the Study of International Law; Government of the United States of America - U.S. Naval War College

Date Written: May 16, 2014

Abstract

The law of targeting lies at the heart of international humanitarian law (IHL). As such it is the fulcrum around which discussion of combat operations revolves. The efficacy of this body of law depends on maintenance of the delicate balance between military necessity and humanitarian concerns. Mischaracterization or misapplication of IHL norms risks imbalance, thereby jeopardizing the innocent and potentially eroding State support for IHL’s application. Regrettably, while some of the current debate and commentary surrounding, inter alia, drone operations, autonomous weapons systems, cyber operations, and the current conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Ukraine, to name just a few, is highly sophisticated, much of it has been characterized by imprecise, skewed, or wrong assertions regarding the law of targeting. It is therefore a propitious moment to revisit the structure and content of targeting law. After briefly placing the law of targeting in the broader context of IHL, this article examines the five constituent elements of a targeting operation: (1) target; (2) weapon; (3) execution of the attack; (4) collateral damage and incidental injury; and (5) location. The legality of an engagement depends on full compliance with the rules falling into each category.

Keywords: targeting, drones, autonomous weapon systems, cyber, law of armed conflict, international humanitarian law, balance, collateral damage, precautions in attack

Suggested Citation

Schmitt, Michael N. and Widmar, Eric, 'On Target': Precision and Balance in the Contemporary Law of Targeting (May 16, 2014). 7 Journal of National Security and Policy 379-409 (2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2439345

Michael N. Schmitt

Naval War College - Stockton Center for the Study of International Law ( email )

686 Cushing Road
Newport, RI 02841
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.usnwc.edu/Academics/Faculty/Michael-Schmitt.aspx

University of Exeter Law School ( email )

Streatham Court
University of Exeter
Exeter, EX4 4QJ
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/law/staff/mschmitt/

Lieber Institute, USMA at West Point ( email )

600 Thayer Rd
West Point, NY 10996
United States

Eric Widmar (Contact Author)

Stockton Center for the Study of International Law ( email )

686 Cushing Road
Newport, RI 02841
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.usnwc.edu/ild

Government of the United States of America - U.S. Naval War College ( email )

686 Cushing Road
Newport, RI 02841
United States

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