Legitimate Targets? Social Construction, International Law and US Bombing

Thomas Simpson
Dapo Akande

Dr Janina Dill introduces her book 'Legitimate Targets? Social Construction, International Law and US Bombing', recently published by Cambridge University Press. Her talk is followed by comments by Dr Adam Bower and Dr Thomas Simpson.

Based on an innovative theory of international law, Janina Dill’s book investigates the effectiveness of international humanitarian law (IHL) in regulating the conduct of warfare. Through a comprehensive examination of the IHL defining a legitimate target of attack, Dill reveals a controversy among legal and military professionals about the ‘logic’ according to which belligerents ought to balance humanitarian and military imperatives: the logics of sufficiency or efficiency. Law prescribes the former, but increased recourse to international law in US air warfare has led to targeting in accordance with the logic of efficiency. The logic of sufficiency is morally less problematic, yet neither logic satisfies contemporary expectations of effective IHL or legitimate warfare. Those expectations demand that hostilities follow a logic of liability, which proves impracticable. This book proposes changes to international law, but concludes that according to widely shared normative beliefs, on the twenty-first-century battlefield there are no truly legitimate targets. 

This event was co-hosted by the Oxford Institute for Ethics Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC) and the Centre for International Studies (CIS).