Targeted Killing: Self-Defense, Preemption, and the War on Terrorism

Hunter, Thomas Byron
May 2009
Journal of Strategic Security;May2009, Vol. 2 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
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 The methods of investigation include a thorough review of the available literature: books, published and unpublished essays, interviews of selected individuals (to include academics and retired members of military and police forces), and the author's independent analysis.


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