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Why Civilian Casualties Are Unacceptable in Military Operations, Essay Example

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Essay

In the following evaluation argument, I will be discussing if it is ever ethically justifiable to kill civilians in a military operation, even accidentally. This is a problem because many times military operations cannot be effectively conducted without some injury or casualty to civilians.

Essentially, such a problem calls into question the entire conduct of war, since war becomes above all a human rights topic instead of merely strategy and tactics. Military operations often must target areas where there are civilians to be successful. But this also opens up the ethical problem of unethical attacks against civilians.

Military operations are conventionally directed against military targets. That means that they are directed against individuals and groups who have been identified as hostile enemies by the side performing military operations. However, just because a military clearly identifies enemy forces and carries out operations accordingly, this does not mean that civilians and non-combatants may not be killed or wounded in the crossfire. The object of military operations is to eliminate hostile enemies, but they often overstep their bounds and also wound and kill civilians. Therefore, this argument is based on two key categories: the enemy fighter and the civilian.

In light of this problem, I will suggest that military operations are unethical when involve the wounding or killing of civilians, even if this killing or wounding is accidental. In other words, war should also have ethics, and the foundational ethics is that of the respect for the lives of those not directly participating in the conflict. Any violation of this code is unacceptable.

Many analysts will say that the wounding and killing of civilians is a so-called necessary evil or an unavoidable evil , especially in the context of War on Terror, where there is a blurring of the lines between who is civilian and who is an enemy. They will therefore argue that it is impossible to carry out military operations at all without some civilian casualties.

In war, military operations are carried out to realize a certain objective. These objectives can often vary according to the precise strategy that is being pursued and the precise tactics that are being used. As the famous military theorist Carl von Clausewitz defined war and military operations, the object of war is “thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.” (13) Accordingly, military operations realize their objectives through physical force. Obviously, we can see the clear problem that arises from an ethical perspective when we define military operations in this way. Military operations by definition include a concept of violence. However, what makes the question even more problematic is that many times what Clausewitz calls “the enemy” is not clear. This can lead to the deaths of innocents. Therefore, military operations have two negatives. Firstly, by definition they involve violence. Secondly, this violence can also affect those who are not the targets of this violence, civilians. Yet even if we eliminate the first point about the ethics of violence, it seems that the second point is problematic no matter what we think about war. In other words, non-enemies are being affected by military operations. A military operation, however it is defined, cannot claim to be ethical if it attacks non-combatants. Military operations become murder.

If we take a concrete case of military operations, such as the NATO actions in Afghanistan, we can see the unethical aspect of military operations that harm civilians. According to a story from March, 2012 in The Guardian newspaper,

“Afghani casualty figures are higher than at any time since the invasion, and up 8% on last year.” Furthermore, what is even more disturbing is that “civilian casualties in Afghanistan are the highest they’ve been since the invasion.” These statistics demonstrate that there is something terribly wrong with the strategy in Afghanistan. Military operations have existed there for over ten years, and even more civilians are being killed than at the start of the conflict. Therefore, even when NATO says they are not targeting civilians, civilian deaths have risen. This shows that even so-called accidental deaths raise questions about NATO military strategy based upon their lack of ethical acceptability.

The argument against this judgment of non-ethical character of NATO operations in Afghanistan is based on the following rule: that the war in Afghanistan is a war against terrorism and not a clearly defined army. Therefore, it is inevitable that civilians will be caught accidentally in the crossfire. The ethics behind this position is that the greater good of eliminating terrorism justifies the civilian deaths. Furthermore, it is argued that military tactics of NATO try to minimize civilian deaths.

For example, the New York Times quoted President Barrack Obama’s thoughts on the use of drone technology in Afghanistan: “President Obama on Monday defended the use of drones to strike suspected terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere, saying the clandestine program was ‘kept on a very tight leash’ and enabled the United States to use ‘pinpoint’ targeting to avoid more intrusive military action.” (Landler) Accordingly, the counter-argument is that strategies are being used to minimize civilian casualties, and that this legitimizes the use of particular technologies such as drones.

However, the statistics mentioned in the Guardian article above show that such strategies have failed. Afghan civilian deaths have risen, despite use of technology such as drones. Any arguments suggesting that the nature of the terrorist threat needs a more dynamic strategy seem to fail since civilian deaths continue to rise. This increase does not help support the claim that War on Terror is a difficult war to fight, but rather calls into question the entire War on Terror itself.

It would seem that the criteria for judging the ethics of military operations are simply the number of civilian deaths that are caused. The fact that the number of civilian deaths continue to increase in places such as Afghanistan suggests that military operations are not concerned with civilian life. Therefore, even if these are accidental deaths, they are still increasing. It is difficult to defend such strategies from any ethical position. Rather, it shows that the military strategies and tactics are not being successful. The general rule that emerges from this data is that civilian deaths in military operations cannot be justified. They do not aid in stopping the enemy, but rather make the population affected by the attacks even more hostile, and civilians may become armed enemies after witnessing the negative effects of these operations.

The aforementioned cases show that civilian deaths have increased, which means that civilian casualties do not help the military objectives that intentionally or accidentally claim civilian lives. If it would be accepted that some civilian deaths are ethical, this could have the disastrous effect of angering the civilian population. This means that even from the perspective of military operations, the killing of civilians should be viewed as an ethical and strategic failure, since this merely creates more enemies. For example, Reuters News Agency reported that “the massacre of 16 villagers by a U.S. soldier triggered angry calls from Afghans for an immediate American exit.” (Nadem & Haron) Military operations that kill civilians fail even in terms of their own military objectives. Therefore, from both an ethical and practical military standpoint, civilian deaths appear inexcusable.

Once again, the opposition would state that civilian casualties are unavoidable in war, especially when the enemy lives in such close quarters as the civilian population, such as in War on Terror. But the Reuters story shows that civilian casualties negatively impact military objectives. The unavoidability of civilian casualties contributes to the failure to realize military objectives. Once again, it is unacceptable from any perspective, even the perspective that does not place an ethical value to human life or thinks that civilian casualties are a necessary evil related to the nature of the combat.

Any military operations that harms civilians cannot be ethically justified, even according to the definition of war. The success of a military operation and its ethical foundation must be judged in its treatment of the civilian population. If these criteria are not satisfied it becomes impossible to justify war. Instead of war, what is occurring is merely murder of a civilian population.

Works Cited

Author Unknown. “Afghanistan civilian casualties: year by year, month by month.” The Guardian. August 10, 2012. Accessed at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/aug/10/afghanistan-civilian-casualties-statistics

Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Landler, Mark. “Civilian Deaths Due to Drones Are Not Many, Obama Says.” The New York Times. January 30, 2012. Accessed at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/31/world/middleeast/civilian-deaths-due-to- drones-are-few-obama-says.html

Nadem, Ahmad and Haroon, Ahmad. “Afghans urge U.S. exit after killings; U.S. says timetable unchanged.” Reuters News Agency. March 12, 2012. Accessed at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/12/us-afghanistan-civilians-idUSBRE82A02V20120312

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