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Proportionality and the Use of Force in the Middle East Conflict

JURIST Contributing Editor Mary Ellen O'Connell of Notre Dame Law School says that the principle of proportionality in the use of force is a necessary, sensible and humane doctrine of international law that Israel and Hezbollah would do well to respect in the latest Middle East conflict...

A number of world leaders responding to Israel’s forceful reaction to the Hamas and Hezbollah raids in recent weeks have called it justifiable but disproportionate. Applying the international law on the use of force supports both assessments. International law regulates both when force may be initiated (jus ad bellum) and how it must be conducted (jus in bello). The most important rule in either category may well be the principle of proportionality. Any use of force, to be lawful, must be proportionate.(1)

At the end of June, Hamas militants conducted a raid on Israel from Gaza, kidnapping an Israeli soldier. About two weeks later, Hezbollah militants based in southern Lebanon launched rockets into northern Israel and also conducted a raid, capturing two Israeli soldiers, killing three and wounding two. Israel responded to the first incident with heavy bombardment of Gaza, destroying the power station in addition to other civilian infrastructure and killing civilians. In response to the Hezbollah raid, Israel bombed Lebanon, including the city of Beirut in central Lebanon, Beirut’s port and airport. It imposed a maritime blockade. A week after the bombing of Lebanon began, Israeli tanks crossed into the southern Lebanon. Hundreds of Lebanese civilians had died by July 19, with no end to the Israeli action in sight. Hezbollah has launched counter-attacks, killing scores of Israeli civilians.


 Topic: Middle East Conflict | Video: Middle East crisis meeting [UN Security Council]

Israel had the right under international law to take defensive measures in response to the Hamas and Hezbollah raids. Any use of military force, however, must respect the principle of proportionality. This is a general principle of international law, meaning it is inherent to the system. It is also reflected in both treaties and customary international law. There is no question that it is binding on all parties using force. The principle prohibits attacking a military objective if doing so will result in a loss of civilian life, damage to civilian property or damage to the natural environment that outweighs the value of the objective. Our contemporary understanding of proportionality is informed by Article 51(5)(b) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions defining an indiscriminate attack. Such an attack is one “which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

The principle of proportionality works in conjunction with other fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, including the principles of discrimination, necessity, and humanity. The principle of discrimination prohibits the intentional targeting of civilians, persons no longer taking part in fighting because of injury, surrender and the like, and civilian property. Additional Protocol I, Article 51(2) provides, “The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.” Parties using armed force may only intentionally target military objectives, and, even then, the proportionality calculation must be applied: Will the “collateral” damage be too great to justify the attack?

Additional Protocol I Article 52(2) identifies military objectives, incorporating the principle of necessity: “Attacks shall be strictly limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.”

Basic humanity must also always be observed. The excessive use of force, targeting civilians, destroying civilian infrastructure and so forth are not only considered disproportionate, unnecessary, and indiscriminate, but also inhumane.

Closely related to these principles is the principle of proportionality as it relates to the decision to resort to force in the first place. It is important to note that the legal context in which the two raids took place differs. Israel had a stronger basis for sending troops into Gaza than into Lebanon. In both cases, Israel had the right to take responsive action of a defensive nature, but the right did not arise to the right of self-defense as that term of art is understood in international law. By deciding to use force of an extensive nature, including sending troops into Lebanon, Israel acted disproportionately.

Self-defense in international law is governed by United Nations Charter Article 51. Article 51 gives states the right to use force in self-defense if an armed attack occurs. This means, as the International Court of Justice clarified in its 2004 Wall advisory opinion, that a significant armed attack for which a sovereign state is legally responsible may be met with the military force necessary to defend the victim from the attacker. The defense may be taken to the territory of the attacker and the ability to attack again eliminated. The defense of Kuwait after the invasion by Iraq in 1990 is the textbook case. Pushing the Iraqi army out of Kuwait and creating a buffer zone was what was necessary to defend Kuwait. Going all the way to Baghdad was not necessary and would have involved, therefore, a disproportionate use of force.

By contrast to the Kuwait case, the case of Hamas in Gaza is much more complicated. It seems most accurate to continue to treat Gaza as an area of occupation. Palestine as a whole is not yet a sovereign state, in part because Israel is still in occupation of the West Bank. Israel pulled its settlements from Gaza but seemed to continue to exercise a sort of quasi-occupation of Gaza. Israel has the legal obligation to end its occupation, but, while the occupation continues it has the right to keep order. Thus, Israel may have had a lawful basis for responding to Hamas that included sending forces into Gaza. The forces needed to respect the principle of proportionality in using force to respond to Hamas.

The situation is different respecting Hezbollah and Lebanon. Lebanon is a sovereign state. Under the current publicly available facts, Lebanon is not legally responsible for Hezbollah’s raid into Israel. Hezbollah’s acts were not those of a sovereign state and thus do not give rise to the right of self-defense under Article 51 of the Charter. Even if the facts later show that Lebanon was responsible, the Hezbollah raid would still not give rise to the right of self-defense. Such low-level acts of violence are considered “incidents”.

The ICJ made this point in the 1986 Nicaragua Case. The Court distinguished minor armed exchanges or “frontier incidents” from attacks that give rise to the right of self-defense.(2) In 2005, the Ethiopia-Eritrea Claims Commission found that the armed exchange between Ethiopian and Eritrean troops in the town of Badme did not give rise to the right of Eritrea to use the level of force permitted in self-defense.(3) World leaders calling Israel’s conduct disproportionate seem to be reflecting this understanding. Israel could react to the raid and the kidnapping of its two soldiers, but to launch a major assault as far as Beirut in response to this crime was disproportionate.

Subsequent to initiating force against Lebanon, Israeli leaders have stated their goal in using force was to cripple Hezbollah. This is much the same reason it gave for invading Lebanon in 1982. In 1982, however, Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war.

The country was in no condition to control events on its territory. In such a situation, Israel likely did have the right to use force in self-defense on the territory of Lebanon. When Israel advanced all the way to Beirut, however, far from the area where the attacks on it originated, it violated the principle of proportionality. This is the position that even the United States government took at the time.

Prior to Israel’s latest incursion, Lebanon was not in a civil war. No one would say it had achieved an adequate level of stability and self-government, but neither was it a situation of chaos as in 1982. It was under a Security Council mandate in Resolution 1559 to disarm Hezbollah. That needed to be done, but this failure did not mean the territorial integrity of Lebanon could lawfully be disregarded. Nor did Israel have a unilateral right to enforce the Security Council resolution.

In the Nicaragua Case, the International Court of Justice said the victim of wrongdoing in a border incident must use counter-measures in response as there is not right of self-defense. Counter-measures are otherwise unlawful acts, not involving the use of significant armed force, taken in response to a prior unlawful act as long as they are proportional to the harm caused by the wrong. The most common forms of counter-measures are economic sanctions, but the potential range is wide. For example, attempting to rescue the kidnapped soldiers would have violated Lebanon’s territorial integrity—a wrong, but Lebanon is at least guilty of a failure of due diligence regarding Hezbollah for which such a counter-measure might have been an appropriate response.

This brings us back to proportionality. Counter-measures are also governed by a principle of proportionality. The measure taken in response must be proportionate to the harm caused by the wrong. Proportionality requires assessment of the means to accomplish the lawful objective.

When states have no right to resort to force or no right to resort to force to the extent they do, the principle of proportionality governing the conduct of force still applies. Lawful targets are targets that help to achieve the military purpose of the state using force even if that purpose is unlawful. When the United States and its coalition partners invaded Iraq in 2003, for example, they had no legal right to do so. Still, we judge the proportionality of the use of force against the stated purpose of changing the regime in Iraq. It is probably the case, however, that in assessing military objectives and the proportionate use of force in achieving them, an unlawful purpose colors the assessment.

Israel’s purpose in attacking Lebanon is apparently to disable Hezbollah as a militant force. As indicated above, this purpose is arguably impermissible under the jus ad bellum. Nevertheless, we need to distinguish between targeting Hezbollah rocket sites, a lawful military objective, from targeting Beirut’s port, airport, power stations, bridges, residential areas, and the like. Even with regard to the rocket sites and stockpiles, the proportionality of the attacks must be weighed. World leaders likely had in mind this calculation but also the sense that responding to Hezbollah for the raid was justifiable; using force on a major scale to respond to another problem rendered the force used disproportionate.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations speaking at a pro-Israel rally responded to charges that Israel was using disproportionate force. He said, “You’re damn right we are.”(4) This statement was not only an admission that Israel has acted unlawfully, it is also a prediction that Israel is unlikely to achieve the peace its people surely desire. The principle of proportionality is one of those principles of international humanitarian law that reflects basic moral consensus and as such is linked to achievement of peace and conflict prevention.

As long ago as St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) it has been understood that waging war in a way that respects shared understandings of acceptable conduct helps to win the peace. Augustine taught that war should always be conducted with an eye on the peace. It was with this perspective in mind that Abraham Lincoln ordered the first codification of the law of land warfare to govern the conduct of Union forces in the field. It did not matter that the Confederacy would not be abiding by those rules. What mattered for Lincoln was that the war would end and that the belligerents would be able to live together in peace. Treating the enemy proportionately, in accord with ancient principle, helped achieve that goal.



1. This analysis is drawn from Mary Ellen O'Connell, International Law and the Use of Force (2005) and Judith Gardam, Necessity, Proportionality and the Use of Force By States (2004).

2. Military and Paramilitary Activities In and Against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. U.S.), 1986 I.C.J. 14, 102-03 (June 27) [hereinafter Nicaragua]. See also, International Incidents: The Law That Counts in World Politics (W. Michael Reisman & Andrew R. Willard eds., 1988.)

3. Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission, Jus Ad Bellum (Partial Award, Dec. 19, 2005)

4. Steven Erlanger, "With Israeli Responses, a Debate Over Proportion," New York Times, July 19, 2006, at A1.

Mary Ellen O'Connell holds the Robert and Marion Short Chair in Law at the University of Notre Dame

July 21, 2006

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What is proportional when someone is shooting rockets regularly at your civilain population. Suppose Hezbollah were shooting them at Notre Dames campus from across rather than Kiryat Shmoneh and Nahariya? What level of force do you think the US would use to stop them from being able to do it again and again and again, as Hezbollah has?

As for the Israeli UN Ambassador's comments at the rally, I did not hear those, since I was not there. However I have heard him make similar "admissions" a number of times, to which were appended the comment that Israel's force was disproportionately lower than what other countries (ie. France and Russia who were the quickest to criticize Israel) would use if faced with the same circumstances. I suspect the rest of your article is as accurate and out of context as that bit of reporting.

It's unfortunate that Lebanese civilians and infrastructure are being harmed as much as they are, but it must be remembered that Hezbollah is holding them hostage as much as it is holding the Israeli soldiers hostage. It is also quite likely that many of the civilians in question are essentially Hezbollah auxialliaries - providing hiding places for men and materiel, and whatever other aid they can offer.

July 21, 2006  

The author's article would suggest that the US was "disproportionate" and committing a "war crime" in removing the Taliban from Afghanistan after 9/11. I fundamentally disagree with the premise of the author's article that it is a war crime to use lethal force to eliminate the supply lines (airports, infrastructure, etc.) of a terrorist group sworn to your destruction after they have attacked you.

July 21, 2006  

Myth - "Israel's response is disproportionate."

Fact - The definition of a "disproportionate" response is a subjective one. The question that could be asked of any other country in the world is simply: "What would you do in the same situation?" When protecting its citizens, exercising the right to self-defense and responding to missile attacks over a recognized border, most countries would respond in a similar manner. After all, how many Israelis need to die before the world believes that Israeli responses are proportionate?

Any civilian casualties in a conflict are, of course, tragic and regrettable. Civilians on both sides are suffering. However, Israeli air strikes on Lebanon are not intended to kill civilians, unlike the hundreds of Hezbollah missiles that are targeted specifically at Israeli civilians who have been forced into bomb shelters for their own safety. Israel has even dropped leaflets on Beirut suburbs calling on civilians to stay away from Hezbollah strongholds to avoid being caught up in the fighting.

Israel has also been criticized for targeting Lebanese infrastructure such as the Beirut airport. However, it is also interesting to note what has not been targeted. For example, while the airport runway was bombed, other vital installations such as the control tower were left untouched and Lebanese civilian airliners were allowed to fly to safety. Transport hubs and bridges have been targeted in order to prevent Hezbollah moving the kidnapped Israeli soldiers deeper into Lebanon and possibly even as far as Iran, as well as to prevent the terrorist organization being re-supplied with arms from Iran and elsewhere.

Many of Hezbollah's facilities and missile launch sites are located near residential areas, such as the suburbs of southern Beirut. Terrorists hide within the civilian population and use this population as a shield. Israel's priority is to strike at the Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure that has been allowed to develop in Lebanon.

Israel has, so far, avoided initiating a major ground offensive into Lebanese territory and has barely used a fraction of the firepower available to the IDF.

July 21, 2006  

Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell’s analysis is compelling. However, I have a few quibbles.

1) Professor O’Connell objects to Israel’s targeting Beirut’s port, airport, and bridges, on the basis that such acts are not directed at disabling Hezbollah as a militant force. Technically she is correct. But those acts are permissible in preventing Hezbollah from acquiring new missiles from countries such as Iran and Syria.

2) For the same reason, Professor O’Connell objects to targeting power stations and residential areas. Power stations are generally regarded as command-and-control targets which are generally regarded as legitimate targets despite the collateral damage to civilians’ need for electric power. As for residential areas, Israel does seem to have lost some control over its air force. Pilots generally have a psychological need to experience visible damage resulting from their bombs and missiles. (In Vietnam, as I pointed out in an article in 1969, dams were targeted by pilots in order to enjoy the waters gushing out into Hanoi.) Israel’s response on this point has been feeble. It says that Hezbollah has offices in many of the apartment buildings that were hit. Of course, to bomb an apartment building, killing and injuring its tenants, just to take out an office, is the height of disproportionality.

3) Proportionality is Professor O’Connell’s governing principle. Indeed it is basic to all international law, including the regulation of countermeasures in peacetime. It is not “subjective” as other comments suggest; rather, there is a long history of its content under customary international law. However, I disagree with her invocation of self-defense as a limiting principle of proportionality. Of course, it is, but self-defense under Article 51 is a quagmire these days, involving as it seems to involve the notion of anticipatory self-defense. On re-reading her essay, I do not see how the self-defense argument advances her thesis. If it is just a make-weight, it is a dangerous one from a legal standpoint.

-- Anthony D’Amato

July 21, 2006  

Finally, someone in America who is not afraid to be critical of the Israeli actions. Unfortunately, many who are reading this article are uneducated:

"Many of Hezbollah's facilities and missile launch sites are located near residential areas, such as the suburbs of southern Beirut. Terrorists hide within the civilian population and use this population as a shield. Israel's priority is to strike at the Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure that has been allowed to develop in Lebanon."

While Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions bans, in Article 51(7), the use of civilians as a shield, Article 51(8) makes clear that even if one side is shielding itself behind civilians, such a violation of international law does not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians, including the obligation to take precautionary measures provided for in Article 57. Such measures include refraining from launching an attack, and even canceling an attack in progress, if such an attack may be expected to cause disproportionate loss of civilian life.

"Israel has even dropped leaflets on Beirut suburbs calling on civilians to stay away from Hezbollah strongholds to avoid being caught up in the fighting."

Article 51(2) of Protocol 1 provides: "The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited."
Israel came under fire from Amnesty International after operation "Grapes of Wrath" for causing panic by, essentially, informing civilians that they had a limited amount of time before they would no longer be considered a civilian and would thus be an appropriate target. According to international law, a civilian is a civilian and another party's unilateral decision cannot change that designation. In addition, with the extreme destruction of Lebanon's transportation infrastructure, namely roads, highways and bridges, the ability of the civilian population to flee is significantly diminished; according to news reports from the Associated Press, Lebanese civilians from poor villages in the South, cut off from the outside by Israeli attacks on their bridges, are traveling over mountains on foot in an attempt to escape.

"Israel has, so far, avoided initiating a major ground offensive into Lebanese territory and has barely used a fraction of the firepower available to the IDF."

Actually, Israel has called up thousands of reserve troops and is massing troops and tanks at the border for an impending ground offensive, according to the Associated Press. In addition, in the eyes of International Law (and any intelligent observer), the amount of "firepower" available to a party is entirely irrelevant; the amount of force used in response is what is considered with respect to proportion, and however much Israel is witholding, their response is still excessive.

July 21, 2006  

"Pilots generally have a psychological need to experience visible damage resulting from their bombs and missiles."

However important Anthony feels the pilots' psychological "needs" are, I believe that the Lebanese civilian victims--one-third of which are children, according to the UN--feel that their need to SURVIVE is more important than any psychological need a pilot has. This argument is possibly the most offensive and pathetic attempt to justify what should be looked into as possible war crimes under International Law- which, however much one might or might not agree with, is still the law.

July 21, 2006  

“Proportionality is Professor O’Connell’s governing principle….It is not “subjective” as other comments suggest”

Not subjective? Ms. O’Connell quotes the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions defining an indiscriminate attack as one “which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.” The interpretation of those guidelines is indeed subjective, as we can plainly see in the discourse and debate regarding the justification of Israeli actions.

Obviously, a great degree of subjectivity is involved, and you see that subjectivity in play in the media: the Israel supporters understand that the regrettable occurrence of civilian casualties is inevitable for a greater terrorist threat to be eliminated, empathize with the difficulties of defending a country against these terrorist threats while dealing with entities that play by no rules of ethics and decency, and applaud the amount of sensitivity and ethical concerns Israel has shown given the circumstances (not many countries try to clear out civilians before a military strike). The non-supporters of Israel (and they are usually consistent in their non-support) finely dissect every imperfection on Israel’s side, and endlessly look for why, despite the constant ongoing daily attacks and threats to their existence, Israel must turn the other cheek to its sworn and committed enemies (i.e. lay down and die). It would, of course, be the height of hubris for any side not to see that they are applying a subjective perspective to the issue, and indeed the wording of the Geneva Conventions cannot help but be interpreted (like ALL laws, which is why we have lawyers!). The irony, of course, is that there is no attempt to analyze the sensitivity and ethics of Hezbollah and Hamas, because everyone knows that they don’t care a whit for what the Geneva Conventions say, and yet Israel is expected to not only follow the Geneva Conventions to the letter when dealing with the terrorist groups, but to use the most pacifistic subjective interpretation of them.

Even according to the Geneva Conventions, there is obviously not a blanket prohibition on any action that will result in any civilian casualties. The question is then how to weigh the “concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.” The Israeli military, in attempting to wipe out Hezbollah’s ability to continue to be a source of hostility at Israel’s border, is looking at the long-range ability of Hezbollah to continue to operate with impunity for years and years to come, supported by quite powerful hostile regimes. Hezbollah openly exists with the sole purpose of destroying Israel (they cannot use the “to end the occupation” justification anymore, since Israel is no longer occupying Lebanon!) Therefore, in defeating this terrorist entity, how many civilian casualties are "proportionate"? How DO you figure it, Professors? Lets see, how many Israelis will be killed by Iranian and Syrian missiles in the hands of Hezbollah over the next year, 5 years, 10 years? What time frame do you look at? Should we estimate the numbers of Israelis and others that will be killed and then precisely make sure that no more than that number of Lebanese civilians be killed as a result of striking at Hezbollah? What absurdity!

The issue of “proportionality” with terrorist entities, which exist for no other reason than to destroy an established state, cannot be evaluated in terms of numbers of casualties. Certainly care needs to be taken to minimize the casualties, but then the number will most certainly still be lopsided. If Israel went in and carpet-bombed Lebanon like Russia did in Chechnya, Hezbollah would already be wiped out, but there would be thousands of casualties by now. Israel, as usual, has made great efforts to be precise and specific with the attacks. I believe that any observer can plainly see that, if they are neither blinded by anti-Israel hatred, nor swayed by “numbers of casualities” as the yardstick by which justice is measured.

Incidentally, although I don’t think Professor D’Amato was justifying bombing civilians when he said "Pilots generally have a psychological need to experience visible damage resulting from their bombs and missiles,” I do agree that the comments were entirely inappropriate to this dialogue. He obviously knew that this “need” was not acceptable as a justification, and this “need” is something not proven or verifiable anywhere. It appears that this “need” just served the effect of “disproving” the other justifications for Israeli bombing of Hezbollah facilities nested within civilian areas. This “need” was truly drawn out of thin air. Just as we cannot and should not judge another nation’s acts of self-defense without recognizing the subjective nature of the laws which we using as sources of condemnation, so too should we not condemn based on such purely unempirical, unproven, and subjective theories about psychological “needs.” They only bring down the discourse on a very difficult and complex issue even further to the level of mere speculation.

July 21, 2006  

I would suggest a different approach to the proportionality question about the use of force in the Middle East conflict.
Taken out of contest, as most commentators, including professor O'Connell, happily do, the answer depends heavily from the political perspective that is assumed as a guiding line.
Of course, if the Hezbollah taking of hostages were a "limited" terrorist act, similar to those usually commited by the IRA or the ETA, the israeli response would be not only disporoportionate and criminal, but also deeply self-damaging.

Rather, the question of proportionality should be examined at a deeper level and, possibly, taken out from the subjective realm in which is put by a partisan approach.

First, let us remember that the origin and the deep root of the israelo-palestinian conflict is the existence of Israel itself.
A fact that cannot be denied is that, except maybe for a very brief period after the Oslo accords, the palestinans and, more generally, all the arab populations never truly accepted the existence of a jew state in what they perceived as an arab land.
Hence Hamas' and Hezbollah's actions are not terrorist acts with a limited and somewhat rational purpose, like expelling the israelis from Gaza, south Lebanon or the West Bank.
Moreover, the first two goals have been already attained, but this fact has operated towards an increase rather than a reduction of the intensity of the terrorist attacks.

Under these circumstances, a doctrine that tries to use the principle of proportional action in a narrow context and without considering the whole scenario is untenable.
The Hezbollah raid which led to the taking of israeli hostages, as well as the similar previous raid conducted by the palestinians, was not an isolated action with limited goals, instead it was aimed to weaken the israeli control of its own territory and to show to the arab peoples that Israel can be defeated by a sufficently determined organization.
Since Israel has the right to defend itself, since so much as its own survival is at stake, and since to do so it must defeat the political ends of its enemies, we cannot conclude that its actions in Lebanon are disproprtionate, even if many civilians suffered enormously.

This argument would not be complete if I failed to mention two additional issues.
The first is that one cannot confuse war with police action. Ihe latter has, of course, much more stringent requirements than the former, but, to be effective, also needs a state that controls the territory where the police operates and the support of the other states.
Unfortunately wars cannot be policed on a tort law model because they do not conform to a model in which damages can be repaid and justice can be done by some autoritative action. Wars happen just because no agreement, even on mere principle, can be found.

The second issue is that, contrary to what professor O'Donnell says, Lebanon is not like an innocent bystander. The "currently known publicy available facts" clearly state that its southern population actually supported Hezbollah and was connivent with its terroristic actions. Moreover, none of its political leaders has evere seriously advocated the implementation of the UN resolution that requires Hezbollah to disarm. Hence, unless Lebanon relinquishes its soveraignity over its southern part, it is still responsible by omission of the acts of Hezbollah.

July 24, 2006  

The bottom line here is that this is Israel we are talking about. If we happened to be talking about another country, such as China, that was doing top another country the same thing Israel is doing, there would be far more outcry, and far less defense, of the killing of civilians. Or if another country were doing to the US what Israel is doing to Lebanon. The civilian deaths would not be merely, as some commentators here say, "unfortunate." The deaths would be seen as "war crimes."
That's the problem with "international law": some people can't seem to separate themselves from siding with their own countries and other favored countries; they're partisan, not principled.

August 05, 2006  

Professor O’Connell’s conclusion is a classic example of ivory tower remoteness resulting in irrelevance. She predicts an Israeli failure in generating peace by quoting principles of St. Augustine and supporting them with an example from the Civil War. Of course, neither of those ancient relics applies.

“As long ago as St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) it has been understood that waging war in a way that respects shared understandings of acceptable conduct helps to win the peace.” Hezbollah targets Israeli civilians in minimally aimed, indiscriminate rocket attacks unlinked to any military objective. Hezbollah uses its own civilians as human shields. Israel does not share the idea that those are acceptable forms of conduct. There is very little “shared understanding of acceptable conduct” between these combatants.

Lincoln was fighting for the Union – reconciliation with the Confederacy and return of its soldiers to co-existence in one nation were his top goals. Israel is fighting for security of its citizens. Reconciliation with Hezbollah, whose mission is not secession but the destruction of Israel, is not a goal of this conflict. To achieve this different outcome requires different and modern methods.

Some principles are timeless. Any principle applied inappropriately is useless.

August 08, 2006  


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