The Principle of Distinction and Remote Warfare
Research Handbook on Remote Warfare, Jens David Ohlin, ed, Edward Elgar, UK, Forthcoming, 2017
24 Pages Posted: 29 May 2016 Last revised: 9 Nov 2016
Date Written: May 27, 2016
In theory, certain forms of remote warfare are ideal for compliance with the principle of distinction. Technologically advanced weaponry, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (also known as UAVs, or drones), are able to conduct precision attacks, eliminating targets with a degree of exactness and surety unmatched by previous technologies such as missiles or bombs. In the realm of cyber-hostilities, precisely engineered software or computer code can target and disable very specific objectives, ensuring that only specific objectives are affected by the attack, leaving other systems untouched. Equally, however, the remoteness of such warfare can make distinction assessments and distinction-compliant targeting a harder task. This chapter therefore examines certain questions that arise regarding the principle of distinction and remote warfare. What impact does the remoteness of these means and methods of warfare have on the principle of distinction? Does the fundamental ‘remoteness’ of these kinds of attacks – drone attacks and cyber-attacks – mean that compliance with the principle of distinction is made easier or harder? That is to say, does the physical removal of the attacker from the immediate or proximate vicinity of the target make respecting the principle of distinction more or less achievable? And if compliance with the principle of distinction is facilitated by these remote means and methods of war, how much of that is due to the ‘remoteness’ of the weapons? Is the remoteness of the drone pilot or the cyber-attacker fundamentally linked to distinction-compliant warfare?
Keywords: International armed conflict, non-international armed conflict, principle of distinction, drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, cyber warfare, remote warfare
JEL Classification: K10, K30, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation