August 05, 2009

War and Law

The excellent debate between Avishai Margalit, Michael Walzer, Amos Yadlin and several others on Israel and the laws of war continues through the pages of the New York Review of Books. I cannot help but think that from a counterinsurgent's perspective, some of these debates on the laws of land warfare are irrelevant. One of the things we talked a lot about in Afghanistan with respect to civilian casualties is that the laws of land warfare and the Geneva Conventions actually allow you to do a lot with respect to collateral damage. But it's beside the point. If the Taliban run into a compound, can you destroy it? Sure. But if by destroying it you also kill 15 civilians, you are not serving your strategy very well. You are, as a matter of fact, operationally ineffective. So it seems operational and strategic sense should kick in -- in "wars among the peoples" at least -- long before legality becomes an issue.