Monday, April 13, 2009

Tactical Development

Back in January, I wrote a post advising that an area which desperately needs clarification is the development of moral guidelines pertaining the tactical and strategic prosecution of counter-insurgency operations. In light of that, I found this Ha'aretz article (via Yaacov Lozowick by way of Ignoblus) on Israel's Duvdevan unit very interesting. Duvdevan was formed specifically to engage in close-quarters operations to arrest or neutralize terrorist threats while minimizing the risk and harm to surrounding civilians. Several members of the unit received commendations in the wake of Operation Cast Lead for extraordinary efforts avoiding civilian casualties.

It may seem rather self-congratulatory to give awards for not killing civilians. But the instinct, I think, founders on an inaccurate view on the legal status of civilian deaths in wartime. It isn't illegal to kill civilians -- much the opposite, the law of war recognizes that civilian deaths happen without there being any legal liability. What is prohibited is the deliberate, reckless, or disproportionate killing of civilians. Consequently, there are presumably cases where it civilian casualties may have been justified, but additional risk, effort, or ingenuous maneuvers by the operatives managed to avoid them. This, needless, to say, is a good thing.

The efforts of the Duvdevan are important for another reason. As Mr. Lozowick notes, the question of how to avoid civilian casualties in these sorts of engagements while maintaining operational efficacy and efficiency is one that is not well developed -- Duvdevan have essentially been building their own models from scratch. But insofar as they are broadening our systems of knowledge in this area, they can actually change the norms of warfare itself. An military operation may be proportionate within one set of tactical constraints, but disproportionate in another where we've developed new ways of achieving the goal of the operation with reduced damaged or casualties. For those of us interesting in reducing overall stress and danger to non-combatants, developing these norms should be a top priority.


Jenny said...

It doesn't really matter though: the Israel government has starved the Palestinians, fired at a UN school*(they claimed Hamas was hiding there), and violating the ceasefire. It's even possible that they used human shields:

So in a few large cases, civillian casulaties weren't accidental.


PG said...

Jenny, you have a frighteningly nihilistic view of life. It doesn't matter if people try to do better for the future so long as bad things are happening today?

Also, I suppose you consider it irrelevant that the UN acknowledges that Hamas had in the past used the exact school building in question as a site from which to launch attacks, and that the UN admit that they abandoned the building to Hamas to do so.

You seem to be missing the distinction between negligence and even recklessness versus intent. It might have been reckless or negligent for IDF to fire on the school, but that's exactly what the program described in David's post is trying to reduce: actions that aren't war crimes but that need not be taken in order to accomplish the mission. Can you offer evidence to back up your implications that IDF intentionally kills civilians, that that has been their goal in any operation?

David Schraub said...

I doubt it's frighteningly nihilistic so much as it's frighteningly Manichean. Israel, in Jenny's eye, is an irredeemable force for evil in the world. Facts, motives, alternative perspectives and considerations are rather irrelevant when dealing with such a force. It's simply left-wing Bushism: Like former President Bush, Jenny knows the world can be divided neatly into good and evil, and all we need to know is that Israel is in the latter's camp, and thus must be destroyed. And like President Bush, the upshot of this worldview is terrifyingly violent, illiberal, reactionary, and bigoted.

Jenny said...

No, I'm mad at the Israeli government, not the people. Nor do I want the country obliterated.