History is replete with circumstances that have forced decision-makers at every level to balance the conflicting pressures of military necessity on the one hand and military ethics on the other. In this century, however, western powers that have participated in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations have witnessed an alignment of strategic and ethical demands. In fact, the strategic demands in such operations have often been more stringent than the ethical ones. The proportionality requirements in just war theory and in international law do not prohibit foreseeable civilian casualties, but only those foreseeable civilian casualties that “would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.” In recent conflicts, however, civilian casualties have carried tremendous strategic significance in addition to their moral significance.
Why America Hasn’t Learned to Win Wars
A critique of America’s foreign misadventures.
A THIRD lesson might be called the impotence of idle threats. Inasmuch as Richard Nixon had a “secret plan” for peace, as he claimed during the 1968 campaign, it was based on the so-called “madman theory,” a stratagem of persuading an enemy of one’s irrationality and then threatening the use of nuclear weapons to force a settlement. “They’ll believe any threat of force Nixon makes because it’s Nixon,” the candidate confidently told aide Bob Haldeman while strolling on the beach.
George C. Herring & Michale C. Desch — The National Interest