Flickr

  • www.flickr.com
    Abiola_Lapite's photos More of Abiola_Lapite's photos

« Political Bulimia | Main | Windows Genuine Disadvantage »

July 25, 2006

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451afe869e200d8342a1bfc53ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Myth of Proportionality:

» The Aim is Victory from Isaac Schrödinger
Foreign Dispatches:Israel is no more obliged to restrain itself to exchanging the odd missile with Hezbollah than the United States [Read More]

Comments

emmanuel.goldstein

[The only worthwhile measure of "proportionality" in a military conflict is whether or not the actions being carried out suffice to achieve the ends for which they are undertaken - and by that method, Israel's response cannot be characterized as "disproportionate"]

I take it this is a doctrine that has general application?

David B

Agreed, the term 'proportionality' is not very useful in this context. The real problem is the extent of 'collateral damage' to people not directly involved in attacks on Israel. Israel itself insists that it aims to avoid killing non-combatants, but seems in practice to shoot everything that moves, rather like its American patrons.

Jim

"but seems in practice to shoot everything that moves, rather like its American patrons. "

Twattle. Is Fallujah still standing or not?

The closest to any actual miltary doctrine that the notion of "proportionality" comes is to the economy of force mission, and the purpose of that is to economize your own assets - a stitch in time saves nine - not to spare enemy lives.

The complaints comoing out of Europe about a disproportionate response seem to center on harm to civilians in Lebanon. One hears of "innocent civilians". Europeans are apparently not quite clear on the concept of citizenship. Citizens put their governmemts into power - even dictatorships - and are responsible for their actions and inaction. In the case of Lebanon, it was the government's failure to prevent Hizballah's misbhavior that has led to this very heavy-handed Israeli reaction.

Chuckles

I dont buy into proportionality - but I have a question about efficiency as the bottom line. Would this exclude torture? Contrary to the opinings of some over the past years, I think that in some cases torture would be expedient and efficient.

Jim:

I must disagree with you. There are innocent civilians. Even if civilians put their government in power, it doesnt mean they ought to be liable for all actions of the State. To hold otherwise, is to hold that human opinions exist in perpetuity - which simply isnt the case. Citizens are not completely responsible for all the actions of a regime, and in many cases - not at all responsible. Case in point: How exactly would black South Africans have been responsible for the actions of Apartheid regimes on the International scene? Or American blacks responsible for the actions of the American government over the years? The extent to which civilians are liable for the actions of the State cannot be determined from democratic extrapolations.

Sebastian Holsclaw

The talk of proportionality is an allusion to international law. But it is a term of art.

Lawful force and risk to civilians in war is to be proportional to the military aim.

So if the military aim is to slightly degrade military morale by denying access to waterproof hats, it is not lawful to firebomb a whole city to get the hat manufacturer. That is (theoretically) how proportionality plays out in international law. I think that is an acceptable philosophy. But as usual, a term of art can get misused in popular discussion. You are absolutely right that a tit-for-tat idea of proportionality in war is stupid.

Jim

"I must disagree with you. There are innocent civilians. "

Well, Chuckles, trust you to find some examples that test the rule. OK - in what real way were American blacks citizens? You are right. They weren't real citizens, just civilians. Same holds for African civilians as far as the degree they had any effect on SA's international policies, or any others.

However. None of that stopped American blacks from asserting their citizenship and eventually achieving it.

The question is where to draw the line, and I think the answer is that people are responsible for doing what they can - both with the power that already have and with the power they can reasonably be expected to take. So in this case - what could non-Hizballah Lebanon have done to avert its agony? How about telling Hizballah to stop war preparations? No go. OK then; how about telling Hizballah to leave Lebanon? Same answer. OK then; how about throwing that part of Lebabnon away - just declaring it in secession, since it very plainly is/was not under the control of the government anyway, and writing it off, they way we joke about doing with Texas.

Chuckles

Jim:

100 years after the question of the citizenship of Blacks in the USA was constitutionally addressed by the 14th - it would still have made no sense to hold American blacks liable for the actions of any American regime; a position well played out during the Iran hostage crisis.
Furthermore, in strongly patriarchal societies, it makes no sense to hold women liable for the actions of the regime, even though those women might have legal citizenship.

My point is that citizenship and even an abdication of what we hold to be the responsibility that goes with citizenship is not enough to demonstrate liability in times of war. For instance - should non voting and non tax paying citizens of a State be treated the same as their voting and tax paying compatriots? Even if Lebanese citizens refuse to address the Hezbollah problem - this does not demonstrate liability, any more than their addressing the problem (as some have done) immunize them from Israeli attack (which it clearly hasnt).
So for me its not really about what citizens should or should not do: I do think there are innocent civilians and citizens regardless of whether they are living up to their responsibilities or not.

shira

I think that the proportionality issue is important.

Hizbollah wants to wipe out Israel.

Israel wants to degrade Hizbollah's military capabilities.

This is disproportional.

Matt

An excellent post, Abiola, and timely.

If the goal of military conflict is victory or the achievement of a specific aim, why should it be 'proportional'? I would be interested in knowing where this concept came from and why it seems to have taken up as a mantra by the media.

Factory

"warfare is fundamentally about using brute force to get the enemy to do what you want - in other words, intimidation by killing, or by the plausible threat of killing"
Indeed, but Israel can't get away from politics. If Israel wants to get a peacekeeping and/or occupation force in Lebanon which is composed of other countries soldiers they are going to have to play nice. Other countries do not want to be seen to be supporting an unjust war.

Matt:
"Hizbollah wants to wipe out Israel.
Israel wants to degrade Hizbollah's military capabilities.
This is disproportional."
Erm, Israel have said quite clearly that they want to completely wipe out Hezbollah. Regardless, in actual actions and results the disproportionality goes the other way.

fishbane

If proportionality has no place in warfare, I take it that Israel would be justified in deploying chemical weapons or nukes, torturing civilians who may know something, poisoning wells...?

If not, then it has meaning. Just war theory is a well established body of thought that much of the world respects. The same logic that leads you to gaining a reputation for swift, successful response also leads to wanting others you may come in conflict to respect boundaries of barbarism. Those boundaries do shift with the intensity of the conflict, of course, but a nation ignores them at their own peril.

Bronzeky Lee- Ozwald

What a load of up side down crap. This war started in 1948, during the invasion of Palestine and the illegal creation of the state of Israel.

Abiola

"If proportionality has no place in warfare, I take it that Israel would be justified in deploying chemical weapons or nukes, torturing civilians who may know something, poisoning wells...?"

We *are* rather in the mood for building straw men today, aren't we?

"What a load of up side down crap. This war started in 1948, during the invasion of Palestine and the illegal creation of the state of Israel."

In the event that this isn't sarcasm, I suggest you resume taking your Olanzapine before consulting your local library for a decent history book ...

shira

Hizbollah is wrong, this is not an all out offensive. If Israel wanted to conduct an all-out offensive it would level Bint Jbail rather than simply surrounding it and allowing civilians to escape.

Israel has responded to Islamist aggression with a focused military campaign.

David B

I must apologise for my error in saying that Israel seems to shoot everything that moves. I should have said:

Isreal seems to shoot:

(a) everything that moves, and

(b) everything that doesn't move, e.g. UN observation posts.

Is Faluja still standing? I don't know, but quite a lot of it isn't. If Abiola is so confident in the accuracy of American targetting, perhaps he would like to conduct a personal survey on the ground?

American troops are also notorious for 'friendly fire'. I recall the common joke of British forces in World War II, that they would rather have the Germans in front of them than the Americans behind them.

Abiola

"Isreal seems to shoot:

(a) everything that moves, and

(b) everything that doesn't move, e.g. UN observation posts."

Since you're such a confident judge of these matters, why not inform us of how exactly you would have gone about doing better?

"If Abiola is so confident in the accuracy of American targetting"

Whence sprang this non-sequitur? Are you sure you're on the right weblog, or is this just you typing out a pre-written lefty rant you already had memorized? I don't see any mention of the "accuracy" (or lack thereof) of "American targetting" in my post. What's stranger still about your irrelevant little rant is that it follows right on the heels of your lambasting Israel for not using magical weapons and troops with a 0% error rate; but then again, who has time to be consistent when there's Israel-bashing to be done?

Chuckles

[...Just war theory is a well established body of thought that much of the world respects...]

Yes indeed. I watched Chomsky take this one apart during his recent speech at Westpoint.
Though it is of course true that proportionality to a large extent stems from JWT - all evidence points to JWT being just another bunch of hokum - along with United Nations Human Rights Councils (composed of its worst violators), Food Councils (composed of regimes that use Famine as a tool of social control), etc.

shira

Abiola,

Israel has just lost 8 to 14 men in Bint Jbeil precisely because they didn't prep the battlefield by "shooting everything that moves."

David is clearly a maniac.

Jim

"Is Faluja still standing? I don't know, but quite a lot of it isn't. If Abiola is so confident in the accuracy of American targetting, perhaps he would like to conduct a personal survey on the ground?"

Well then get up off your dead ass and go find out. Lazy. Can't be bothered with the facts, but you presume to inflict your uniformed opinion on us nevertheless. We lost a lot of people in our attempt to minimize civilian casualties. Along comes some lazy idiot to sneer at that attmpt and those deaths. Faluja could have been levelled in an afternoon. Quite a lot of it isn't still standing - random bombing would have levelled quite a lot more.

"American troops are also notorious for 'friendly fire'."

Among whining British troops, perhaps.

"I recall the common joke of British forces in World War II, that they would rather have the Germans in front of them than the Americans behind them. "

I recall the reputation of senior British officers as supercilious and incompetent, too incompetent to be bothered with observing the fire control measures that would have kept their troops out of friendly fire areas.

Chuckles,

I take your point, but you argument doesn't convince me. (I just think citizens are responsible for the actions of their nations.) And I also think there is just something icky about shooting at civilians, so eventhough your argument doesn't convince me, I agree with it.

Frank McGahon

"I take your point, but you argument doesn't convince me. (I just think citizens are responsible for the actions of their nations."

Jim, you should really think this one through. If civilians *are* responsible for the actions of their governments, this would suggest that civilians are legitimate targets for anyone who is opposed to actions by that government - which is more or less the rationale for terrorism.

Finnpundit

"I recall the common joke of British forces in World War II, that they would rather have the Germans in front of them than the Americans behind them."

Actually, the original quote came from Patton, who said he'd rather have 2 German divisions in front of him than one French division behind.

Jim

Frank,

I agree with you that this could be a justification for terrorism. (My definition of terrorism is a crime against an individual intended to intimidate a larger group - so it takes in a lot of OC "enforcement" and "regulating" as well as hate crimes against members of groups.)

The bombing campaign against Germany in WWII had several strategic objectives, and one central one was to break the will of the German people as a whole to continue the fight. I can't develop much moral dsgust over that, however much the German people were civilians. I have also heard modern-day Japanese shrug off the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs as just the way things are in war, although since that is the obvious polite thing to say (to an American), I take it with a grain of salt.

And I agree that this takes a lot of thinking through. I continually think about this, as a matter of professional ethics. As far as that goes, I know what the law and regulations say, but that is a legal rather than a moral answer to the question.

The question is, if citizens are not responsible for the actions of their governments, who is? After all, who put Hitler into power? The hidden cabal of Jews that run the world? I am excluding civilians shut out of real citzenship, on whatever pretext. But I still think real citizens, who derive all the benefits that accrue from their government's actions, should bear responsibility for those actions. They are the shareholders in that government; don't shareholders bear the losses that arise out of bad decisions by management in corporations?

It seems to me that this legal exemption that civilians enjoy is a relic of feudalism. A hundred years ago when oligarchs ran Europe (as they still do, for that matter) it was unfair to hold anyone else responsible. I know how you feel about feudal paternalism as a bsis for society, so this cannot be why you think civilians in the present day should not be held responsible for what their governments do.

There is also the old utilitarian argument for protecting the peasants as units of production, that even that calculating reptile Sun Zi recognizes. And speaking of utilitarian takes on the question, the military doctrine on this, at least in the US, is basically presented in a utilitarian light - why alienate and anatgonize people who may at worst remain neutral and at best be induced to cooperate? Besides, it is not good for good order and discipline to allow your people to give in to their animal passions and run around abusing helpless people. Those are purely utilitarian arguments. Are you really satisfied with utilitarian solutions to moral questions? They usually work for me, but not completely in this case. I still balk at treating enemy civilians on the battlefield like enemy troops. I just can't find a rational basis for it.

What is your reason? It could be cultural residue from Christianity. It could be cultural residue from paganism - in Tain Bo Cuailgne and other literature form that period warriors are punctiliously careful in their treatment of non-combatants, as a matter of being a real warrior and gentleman. And frankly even that has a utilitarian explanation, I bet. I am truly interested in anything you can offer

Frank McGahon

Jim, I think my main point is not to construct a positive argument in favour of a civilian exemption but rather to point up that the argument that citizens ought be held responsible for the actions of their government is a core justification for terrorism such as, say, Palestinian suicide bombings. As it happens, I don't think that it's possible to construct a blanket civilian exemption for all circumstances. In WWII, German civilians were by and large part of the war effort and, in the main, supported the war. In the case of Lebanon, I don't think it's really tenable to consider non-Hezbollah-supporting Lebanese civilians as part of Hezbollah's effort.

Jim

Yes, Frank - Hamas, I think it is, have explicitly used that argument to exucse their tactics, and it does in fact follow from holding civilians responsible. And that's a problem with the proposition.

The problem with the opposing propostion, that civilians are not to be held accountable when they send their minions out to wage war on other people, is that that leaves them free to do it without the exectation of any high-stakes consequence.

I think what you are suggesting, that we avoid overly precise, half-baked and useless ethical formulations, makes the most sense.

fishbane

I'm not constructing a straw man. If you're correct, then poisoning wells, torture, etc. is morally justified in the current conflict.

I'm not asserting than anyone is doing so, or would do so. And that they are/won't, I think, demonstrates (put aside any tactical reasons for not doing so) that the concept of just war is alive and well. And that is one of the sources of the concept of proportionality that you're abusing. (Another source is Catholic law.)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Notes for Readers