The Elusive “Precision Warfare”


Tirana Hassan of Amnesty International recently said this about the ways the great modern militaries have failed to protect civilians:

“The great military powers cynically boast about ‘precision’ warfare and ‘surgical’ strikes that distinguish between fighters and civilians. But the reality on the ground is that civilians are routinely targeted where they live, work, study, worship and seek medical care. Parties to armed conflict unlawfully kill, maim and forcibly displace millions of civilians while world leaders shirk their responsibility and turn their backs on war crimes and immense suffering.

“Russia, China and the United States continue to abuse their veto power by blocking draft resolutions that aim to prevent or stop atrocities from taking place. Every time this happens, they are putting innocent people living in these danger zones at grave risk.”

I mostly agree with Hassan about criticizing terms like precision warfare and surgical strikes, thought I would go one step further. I’ve written before that civilian casualties are a feature, not a bug, of war and that war is more like a sledgehammer than a scalpel. So I don’t think that these transgressions are unique to Russia, China, or the United States. However, as the biggest militaries in the world, they have a disproportionate impact on the ways that conflict can affect civilians around the world. They should certainly be doing better, though that means making the protection of innocent people a higher priority.

civilians

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