IHL, Targeting and Military Training

Duration: 1 January 2012 – 31 December 2015

Researchers: professor Gregor Noll, doctoral candidate Amin Parsa, professor Ulf Linderfalk (starting late 2013: Matilda Arvidsson, post-doc, and Markus Gunneflo, post-doc)

International humanitarian law (IHL) imposes specific rules on states and certain types of non-state actors engaged in an armed conflict. These rules relate inter alia to the protection of civilians and their property in armed conflict. They do not prohibit military action resulting in the loss of civilian life at large. What they do is to limit the choices of parties to the conflict when it comes to the conduct of hostilities and prohibit inter alia such attacks causing a disproportional loss of civilian life. On set of choices relates to the selections of targets to be attacked. These choices are denoted by the term “targeting”. Targeting decisions can trigger intense policy debates, as illustrated by the 2009 Gaza conflict, by the 2002 U.S. strike against six suspects in Yemen or by certain air strikes within the framework of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Targeting is a matter of life and death as much as of victory and defeat. With the stakes being so high, targeting rules in IHL should ideally be logical, unambiguous and straightforward to implement. When it comes to the relevant norms laid down in international treaty law, this is not the case, as I have been able to show in earlier research.

It is fully conceivable that the shortcomings of these international norms are compensated for when states implement them. Of particular interest is the question how states train military decision-takers in targeting, and how decision-taking is proceduralized. It is entirely possible that additional normativity has been developed in the practice of states. The object of the present project is to establish a) whether six select states have developed norms or patterns of conduct that complement international norms on targeting; b) in what way these norms or patterns of conduct affect the material propositions in international norms on targeting; and c) whether such norms or patterns of conduct overlap amongst states covered by the project.

It is generally acknowledged that state practice in the area of IHL is relatively hard to research due to the constraints on openness and transparency inherent in military operations. This difficulty is frequently used to critique positions on the normative content of customary IHL. For example, a comprehensive and ambitious study on customary IHL presented by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2005 (Henckaerts and Doswald-Beck 2005) was criticised by U.S. government for overstating the significance of military manuals at the expense of actual state conduct in armed conflicts.

The aim of the proposed study is to add observations of training to the empirical material. Training situations are accessible to researchers, while actual decision-making processes in conflict situations is not, due to military confidentiality. While taking into account domestic written sources as legislation, judgments, military manuals and instructions, we will mainly focus on the means and methods used to train military decision-takers in lawful targeting as an empirical source. As far as we know, no other study has systematically inquired into training situations. We believe that this has a double advantage. First, our study focusing on training situations is more prone to depict actual state conduct than what a study exclusively focusing on written sources might achieve. Second, domestic training regularly features simulations of actual decision-taking processes. Therefore, it allows us to partially capture the procedural contingencies of targeting decisions in each of the researched states.

The six states selected for empirical research are Australia, Germany, Israel, Malawi, Sweden and the US.