“Casualties of Counts? Civilian Targeting Data and the Laws of War” – with Charli Carpenter
Abstract: This article examines the extent to which international legal understandings are represented in large-N cross-national datasets documenting civilian harm. We argue that because of the political power of quantitative science and the ‘stickiness’ of both numbers and the conceptual categories those numbers populate (e.g. “civilian”, “civilian harm”, and “international law violations”), it is important that the data produced accurately reflect and disseminate the international legal concepts they purport to measure. Using codebooks, coding decision manuals, and the articles in which they are introduced, we evaluate five popular global datasets used by political scientists that capture civilian harm to an ideal typical standard we derive from our understanding of the letter of international humanitarian law. We find variation within and across specific datasets in the degree to which international legal understandings are represented in definitions and coding processes. Three common problems we identify are the way in which “civilian” is defined, a focus on only specific kinds of violence, and the exclusion of lawful harm. However, we suggest that new and existing data collection efforts can build upon the strengths of these datasets to better approximate the ideal, and recognize existing efforts to do so.
“Pernicious Effects: Civilian Immunity, Technology, and War Making” – Presenting at ISA 2016
Abstract: In the debate over whether lethal autonomous weapons or “killer robots” should be banned, critics and proponents pay considerable attention to the principle of distinction which obliges combatants to distinguish between military and civilian persons and objects. Missing in this debate are two potentially pernicious effects of deploying technology better able to comply with this principle: 1) as precision increases, the ideational and physical distance between legitimate and illegitimate targets decreases while the number of plausible targets, aided by the wedding civilian and military technologies, increases; and 2) the legitimacy afforded by the ability to better comply with international humanitarian law may make for more war. This paper presents a plausibility probe into these potentially deleterious effects through an examination of the justification and use of smart(er) weaponry in the Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War as well as the justification and use of drones by the United States.