The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

December 5, 2012


This graph comes to you from a newly published article on the politics of the drone campaign published this week in International Studies Perspectives. I haven’t yet read the full piece so cannot yet comment on it substantively or theoretically. Nor have I looked closely at the authors’ code-book. However based on the abstract, the analysis appears to rest on the empirical evidence of a newly coded dataset (the latest of many out there presuming to calculate the percentage of civilians – v. non-civilians – killed in drone strikes) to make claims about the justifiability of such attacks – presumably by weighing civilian harms against military effectiveness. My reaction here pertains solely to this graph, and what strikes me is the disjuncture between the authors’ coding of “civilians,” and the actual definition of civilians in the 1977 1st Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions.

See for yourself:

Article 50(1):

A civilian is any person who does not belong to one of the categories of persons referred to… in Article 43 of this Protocol…

Hmm, so civilians are anyone not meeting the definition of ‘combatant…’ What might that be…?

Article 43(1):

The armed forces of a Party to a conflict consist of all organized armed forces, groups and units which are under a command responsible to that Party for the conduct of its subordinates, even if that Party is represented by a government or an authority not recognized by an adverse Party. Such armed forces shall be subject to an internal disciplinary system which, inter alia, shall enforce compliance with the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict.

Hmm, so the definition of ‘combatant’ doesn’t include ‘suspected militant,’ therefore ‘suspected militants’ must be civilians unless they meet these criteria…

Article 50(1):

In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered to be a civilian.

Hmm, so in addition to many of the ‘suspected militants,’ all those ‘unknowns’ should actually be classified as dead civilians…



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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.