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Precision attack and international humanitarian law

30-09-2005 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 859, by Michael N. Schmitt

Precision operations have opened up new possibilities for avoiding the harm to civilians and their property that is the inevitable result of armed conflict. Further, as weaponry becomes more precise, interpretation of international humanitarian law is becoming increasingly demanding for an attacker. So long as such interpretations do not depart from the law or ignore the realities of military necessity, this too is to be welcomed.


Michael N. Schmitt
is Professor of International Law at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. 

This article explores the relationship between precision attack and international humanitarian law. It begins by addressing the nature of precision attack, including precision technologies, the combat environment in which it occurs, attacker tactics, and the targeting process. Modern precision attack's greatest impact on international humanitarian law lies in four areas: indiscriminate attack; proportionality; precautions in attack; perfidy and protected status. The author concludes that precision warfare has both positive and negative implications for the interpretation and application of international humanitarian law on the twenty-first-century battlefield.  

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