The Duck of Minerva

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Strengthening Civilian Protection

February 23, 2011

My review essay on the protection of civilians is out in Foreign Affairs. I discuss two books – Michael Gross’ Moral Dilemmas of Modern War, and Stephen Rockel and Rick Halpern’s edited volume Collateral Damage. All these authors clearly care deeply about protecting civilians in armed conflicts, and worry in different ways that the existing laws of war are flawed. I have somewhat more faith, particularly in the ability of global civil society organizations to build upon these foundations in order to fill the existing gaps; in fact, as I argue, this process is already underway:

In Moral Dilemmas of Modern War, Michael Gross contends that the current safeguards against civilian casualties are too stringent to address the complexities of today’s wars, barring states from adequately combating irregular forces. Meanwhile, Stephen Rockel and Rick Halpern argue in Inventing Collateral Damage that the current international regulations are too weak, permitting and even enabling states to harm civilians during combat.

From two widely different perspectives, the books cast doubt on the value of the existing international regulations presumably designed to mitigate war’s impact on civilians. But a closer look suggests that these authors overstate the tensions between the laws of war and the modern battlefield and underestimate just how well the existing statutes are working. Although the laws of war require strengthening, they constitute a firm foundation on which to better protect civilians.

Entire essay here.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.