Targeted Killing: Self-Defense, Preemption, and the War on Terrorism Thomas Byron Hunter, M.A., M.Litt.
Killing a man is murder unless you do it to the sound of trumpets. —Voltaire
this paper assesses the parameters and utility of “targeted killing” in combating terrorism and its role within the norm of state self-defense in the international community. the author’s thesis is that, while targeted killing provides states with a method of combating terrorism, and while it is “effective” on a number of levels, it is inherently limited and not a panacea. the adoption and execution of such a program brings with it, among other potential pitfalls, political repercussions. targeted killing is defined herein as the premeditated, preemptive, and intentional killing of an individual or individuals known or believed to represent a present and/or future threat to the safety and security of a state through affiliation with terrorist groups or individuals. the principal conclusions of this paper are that targeted killing: ● Must be wholly differentiated from “assassination” and related operations involving the intentional targeting of an individual during wartime, in order to be considered properly and rationally. ● is a politically risky undertaking with potentially negative international implications. ● is the proven desire of some terrorist groups to conduct attacks involving mass casualties against innocent civilians that may, in the future, cause states to reconsider previous abstention from adopting targeted killing in order to protect their populace. ● can serve to impact terrorists and terrorist groups on a strategic, operational, and tactical level. ● Has historically had both negative and (unintentionally) positive impacts for terrorist groups. ● oftentimes exposes civilians to unintentional harm. the methods of investigation include a thorough review of the available literature: books, published and unpublished essays, interviews of 1
Journal of Strategic Security
selected individuals (to include academics and retired members of military and police forces), and the author’s independent analysis.
this paper examines the dynamic of “targeted killing” as it relates to the phenomenon of modern international terrorism and the individual state’s rights to self-defense. Due to the nature of modern international terrorism, particularly in its suicide form, and its emergence on the world stage primarily after the September 11, 2001 attacks, academic focus on this type of potential response—targeted killing—has been limited. consequently, this paper endeavors to contribute an essentially new and largely unexplored insight into targeted killing as it pertains to the state’s right to defend its citizens. given the paucity of scholarly study on targeted killing, and the natural reluctance of nations to acknowledge any formal policy, there is relatively little published literature (aside from a small number of essays appearing primarily in academic journals) against which to balance the findings and conclusions presented in this paper. the bulk of the available literature used as reference material herein was derived from works pertaining to related topics, such as assassination, conventional and unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, and the norm of state selfdefense. this paper also makes extensive use of case studies involving groups (e.g., HaMaS, irish republican army [ira], etc.) and cites both “covert” and “overt” state policy as employed over the last 30 years by nations such as israel and great Britain in order to better elucidate the motivating factors and the risks involved in this dynamic.
Defining and Explaining Targeted Killing
Discussions pertaining to a national-level policy of premeditated killing of suspected or known terrorists have been hampered historically by the lack of accurate and agreed on definitions of this type of policy. terms such as “extrajudicial killing,”...
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