During war, civilians are subject to collateral and direct harm. By law and ethics, the principle of proportionality mitigates collateral harm and the principle of noncombatant immunity forbids direct harm. Each principle hopes to limit civilian death and injury significantly. During asymmetric war between a large and technologically superior state army and a small and far less sophisticated nonstate guerrilla organization, two phenomena weaken these principles. First, noncombatants are outwardly indistinguishable from the guerrillas who operate in their midst. As a result, state armies inevitably subject noncombatants to unnecessary and disproportionate harm as they attempt to destroy guerrilla forces. Second, state armies are redefining the status of civilians who provide war-sustaining aid. By law, civilians who do not directly participate in the hostilities retain their immunity despite the essential financial, educational, welfare, telecommunications and legal support they provide a military organization. The cadre of active fighters in guerrilla organizations, however, is small in number and to maintain an effective fighting force they must depend upon civilians who work for institutions associated with the organization’s political wing. Increasingly, state armies are attacking these “associated structures” directly, thereby stripping immunity from a hitherto protected class of civilians. It is difficult to proscribe these attacks entirely because state armies must disable associated targets to prevail in asymmetric war. Attacking the few military targets available is generally insufficient to decide a conflict and allow state armies to achieve their military and political goals. Nevertheless, neither the inability to readily distinguish combatants from noncombatants nor the necessity of disabling associated civilian structures relieves state armies from their duty to mitigate the suffering of civilians. To help protect civilians, nonlethal tactics and weapons deserve serious consideration.
|Title of host publication||Civilians and Modern War|
|Subtitle of host publication||Armed Conflict and the Ideology of Violence|
|Publisher||Taylor and Francis|
|Number of pages||19|
|State||Published - 1 Jan 2012|
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2012 Selection and editorial material, Daniel Rothbart, Karina V. Korostelina and Mohammed D. Cherkaoui.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Sciences (all)