Thursday, March 19, 2015

Asymmetric Conflicts and the Law

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Pnina Sharvit Baruch, Tel Aviv University, is speaking on "Asymmetric conflicts: applying the rules". She discussed her experience in applying the rules of armed conflict when operating against non-state actors. This included questions such as if targeted killing of leaders of non-state organizations engaged in operations against the state. The result seems to me to be to apply some of the decision making process to the military which would normally be carried out by the civilian police force.

Pnina pointed out that the Israel Defense Force legal officers are not in the chain of command of the operational commander and so their decisions cannot be overridden by the commander of an operation.

 As Pnina pointed out the problem with non-state actors is that it is more difficult to work out who are the combatants and who are "civilians". Under the rules of war anyone part of an "organized armed group" is a legitimate target, even if they are not armed. The ICRC suggested that those with a "continuous combat function" are armed forces, but does this include personnel not in uniform training or supporting the combat function.

It seems to me this also has implications for western nations who do have conventional armed forces, but increasingly rely on civilian contractors. A civilian driving a truck load of ammunition to the battlefield might be considered a legitimate target, but what about someone cooking food for ration packs?

A lawful target can include a civilian location which offers a definitive military advantage. So a private home being used for launching rockets is a lawful target, but the family home of a military officer is not. However, if the military officer works from home, issuing commands by phone, is this a target? In the case of cyberwarfare it is likely that military operations will be carried out from homes and civilian offices: are all these targets?

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