The Question of Proportionality in Warfare

Blind Justice with Scales & Sword - Daniel Eskridge 

In any given war people will die. High number of civilian casualties per se is not a crime of war, especially if the attacks are not intentionally directed against civilians. Luís Moreno Ocampo explained it better:

"Under international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute, the death of civilians during an armed conflict, no matter how grave and regrettable, does not in itself constitute a war crime. International humanitarian law and the Rome Statute permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur.
A crime occurs if there is an intentional attack directed against civilians (principle of distinction) (Article 8(2)(b)(i)) or an attack is launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality) (Article 8(2)(b)(iv)." -- (pag. 5 of this IIC Doc)

The above words were produced in 2006, nevertheless it remains usual to hear reporters, pundits and politicians misapply the term "proportional" in a clear attempt to pervert public opinion and secure votes. They will often evoke the international law and accuse one of the parties of "disproportional response" without taking into consideration all the facts regarding the conflict.
In their quest to divert public support from one of the sides, the mentioned interlocutors will misuse the word "proportionality"as if in military terms it meant "Properly related in size, degree, or other measurable characteristics" (source: here); in other words, in the mind of the corrupt, if a foe targets civilian objects with poor-quality technology the defence forces of the attacked nation, in turn, should set aside their state of the art technology for a moment and, equally, respond with low-grade technology (if not with rocks) simply to please the international community.

Dissecting Society is for diplomacy but against appeasement and political correctness. Thus, we decided to look at the proportionality issue in the spirit of Machiavelli and of other such great minds.

"Rule 14. Proportionality in Attack: Launching an attack 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, is prohibited." -- Chapter 4 of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL)

When the enemy forces use civilian objects (schools, places of worship, residential areas, hospitals etc) for military purposes (i.e. hiding weapons, carry out attacks or even sheltering from direct fire) the law says those objects lose the protection against attack (Chapter 2, Rule 10, section A of the IHL) as they gain a clear military advantage from those objects.
When the enemy forces use civilians as human shields (by preventing them from leaving and/or by attacking from locations where civilians live or take shelter in) they are in fact breaking the international law because doing so "is contrary to the principle of distinction and violates the obligation to take feasible precautions to separate civilians and military objectives" (Rule 97 of the IHL) - therefore void of legal (not to mention moral) justification.
When the enemy forces do not properly identify themselves as combatants and dress as civilians (who are "not allowed to perform military functions and must not be attacked" in Military Uniforms and the Law of War by Toni Pfanner) they again violate the principle of distinction and IHL Rule 65 in which Perfidy is prohibited (i.e. dressing as a civilian in order to kill, injure or capture an adversary).
When enemy forces invite civilians (women and children) to engage in direct combat with their adversaries, those civilians must know that they "(..) lose their protection when and for such time as they take direct part in hostilities, and may then be the object of an attack." (idem)

To sum up, in asymmetric warfare, a belligerent party that wages a war by using civilians as human shields, by inciting them to take part in hostilities (often in civilian clothes while carrying their weapons openly), by storing weapons in and launching missile attacks from civilians objects, by placing booby-traps in buildings and neighbourhood blocs (in a clear violation of Art.7 of the Protocol on Prohibition on the use of Mines, Booby-Traps and other devices), by attacking solely civilian targets on a daily basis and by digging tunnels to infiltrate the adversary's territory to kidnap civilians and soldiers; then that party and its collaborators do not have the legal grounds to invoke violation of the proportionality principle, because when there is a calculated direct and concrete military advantage and necessity to bring the foes to submission the proportionality exists.

Repeating the "disproportional response" mantra without fully analysing the circumstances is sheer sophism.

"While Socrates looked for objective and eternal truths the Sophists were promoting ideas of relativism and subjectivism, wherein each person decides for him or herself what the true and the good and the beautiful are.  This appealed to the mob, the crowds, the unthinking horde..." -- Philip A. Pecorino

Comments

  1. How about when they use the proportionality to imply that if on the Palestinian side die 600 people then on the Israeli side 600 people must die too to be proportional? But funny how they don't use the same measure when they talk about other conflicts around the world! I don't want to be manipulated anymore.

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    1. Hi Pietr :D!

      Oh that is the most stupid argument I have ever heard, yes - you are right. Saying such things is either duplicitous or based on sheer ignorance.

      Pietr, don't allow yourself to be manipulated any longer, my friend. And thank you for your comment :D.

      Cheers

      Delete
  2. Balderdash. We will all be wiser by hindsight only. Proportionality will be when all Arab countries will take Palestinian refugees in proportion to their own local populations.

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    1. Hi Rummy :D!

      The problem with hindsight is that meanwhile people are supporting groups like Hamas, which in turn bolsters groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab; Hizb-ut-Tahrir etc without realising the harm they are doing. When they "become" wiser it may be too late.

      "Proportionality will be when all Arab countries will take Palestinian refugees in proportion to their own local populations."

      Good point.

      Rummy, thank you so much for your comment :D.

      Cheers

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  3. Don't you think there's something wrong with over 2000 dead Palestinians and only 66 Israelis? Don't you think that's disproportional? Ok the law may not say it but doesn't morals say it?

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    1. No, I don't, not when over 50% of those casualties are terrorists. Hamas inflated those numbers, Hamas gave instructions to their activists to lie and call militants, terrorists, as civilians, innocent civilians! Who are they trying to play? For all we know, even the women are terrorists! So wake up!!

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    2. Celia, no it's not disproportional cause those Arabs use women and children to fight, that is they are combatants too. Most of those women walk around Gaza with visible weapons in hand, result: legit target! So spare us of your stupidity and false concern for thos Arabs cause if you were you'd attack Hamas and their cronies, like Qatar and the Saudis.

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    3. Hi Celia :D!

      I do think there's something extremely wrong with that math, yes. From those 2,000 "Palestinian" how many terrorists are we talking about? And if they were all civilians then it would mean that Hamas had hid behind them all and violated the law of war. As reports have told us, 51% of those 2,000 were combatants and I would go farther: if I had to bet, given the Hamas strategy, I would say 75% of them were combatants, as they use women and children to fight as well. The UN knows it, everybody knows it, so give us all a break, darling.

      Nevertheless, Celia: thanks for dropping by :D.

      Cheers

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  4. Awesome explanation! Man, I'm so tired of stupid leftists and pro-Palis saying the same stupid thing over and over again as if they didn't think. Wait, they don't think! Anyway, I may use this to cook something in my blog, can I?
    How proportional is the US strikes against terrorists in Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq, huh? Very and the same goes for Israel...

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    1. Hey Adam :D!

      Thanks, man. Yes, of course you may use it - go ahead.
      You know it.

      Adam, thank you so much for your comment :D.

      Cheers

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  5. Britain has every reason to be panicking, once those Brits return home from jihad all hell will break loose. I mean, remember the beheading in the streets of London last year? Yeah, we all thought about it yesterday when ISIS used a Brit to behead that American journalist!
    That Sayeeda Warsi woman should be ashamed of herself: how about resigning over the fact that her government supports Islamists, huh? But noooo, she resigned to support Gaza which is the same as to support Hamas and these ISIS dudes! Disgusting and now evil is upon us, Max.

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    1. Hey Joseph :D!

      Of course I remember, Lee Rigby will be forever in our memory. What a terrible day that was.
      You may be on to something: using a Brit to behead a westerner is quite symbolic, indeed. I agree with you on Sayeeda Warsi - she should be checked. Anyway, I heard she resigned over an expenses scandal but used Gaza as an excuse, do you agree?

      Joe, thank you ever so much for your comment :D.

      Cheers

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  6. WWTD? What Would Tamerlane Do? Ah, yes, he would have been scrupulously proportional.

    I am a bit skeptical of the proportionality principle. But if it must be, then then why not let the Israelis do a random barrage for every random barrage launched at them?

    From my research, the proportionality principle seems to have originated with well-to-do-deadbeats who were envious of better off deadbeats.

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    1. I second you, Looney. And I would say more: WWDD? What Would Djokhar Do?

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    2. Hi Looney :D!

      LOL LOL right?
      Your suggestion sounds proportional, indeed :).

      LOL...I wouldn't be surprised, not a bit.

      Looney, thank you so much for your comment. I can tell the whole bias fatigues you :D.

      Cheers

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  7. Max, people talk shit all the time, they can't help it! But for the so called informed media, ha the irony of that, to repeat idiotic statements is astonishing, isn't it? I'm glad you put it out there and explained the twats what the principle actually means, poor things.
    Can you believe it that Mohammed (aka Mike Rotch) deleted my comment on Google+? That bloody coward!
    Shabbat Shalom!

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    1. Hi Ana :D!

      True. It is, it is.
      He did? That doesn't sound like him...what did you tell him?

      Ana, thank you so much for your comment :D.

      Cheers

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  8. Well from time immemorial and even if you see ancient wars in mythology too, the so called War Ethics has been violated at every drop of the hat and here both the parties to the war has done with unequivocal ease. Now coming to the world ate the moment, I'm a worried lot as I think among the last few decades, this year has really really been terrible with almost 3 major wars/conflicts going on simultaneously from the Iraq crisis, to the Ukraine crisis and the most deadly of all, the Iran-Palestine one. Its high time, if we are to really save the planet, the big giants need to get together and immediately address the issues, although thats easier said than done. But being an optimist I still say a ray of light at the end of the tunnel.

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    1. Mr Kalyan, I'd say the Syrian crisis is the most deadly one with over 190,000 people killed.

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    2. Hey Kalyan :D!

      But in ancient times they could afford it and it was an accepted practise. Today it is not. Besides, the face of war is changing: do the same rules apply? No.
      In a time when the world is still trying to figure out who the 3 giants should be, I'd say it is difficult for them to help solving whatsoever. But if we look at the big 5, we will have to tear our clothes and put ashes on our head because they are in it to their necks. Light at the end of the tunnel? Yes, there is always one...

      Kalyan, my friend, thank you ever so much for your outstanding comment :D. Loved it.

      Cheers

      Delete

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Dissecting Society welcomes all sorts of comments, as we are strong advocates of freedom of speech; however, we reserve the right to delete Troll Activity; libellous and offensive comments (e.g. racist and anti-Semitic) plus those with excessive foul language. This blog does not view vulgarity as being protected by the right to free speech. Cheers