Targeting: Precision and the production of ethics

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War necessarily involves destruction. The development of precision-guided munitions seems to have made it possible to produce intended damage with increasing efficiency and to reduce 'collateral' damage. This has given rise to the expectation that fighting with such weapons reduces the extent of destruction and, crucially, that it is therefore becoming increasingly possible to protect non-combatants during war. This article examines this idea by exploring in some detail what is meant by 'precision' and asking how far this actually entails protection for non-combatants. The article shows how praise for precision not only produces Western warfare as ethical but also both relies upon and reproduces a particular kind of ethics, based on the notion of non-combatant protection. The conclusion draws together the implications of the faith in precision for how we think about war and challenges the underlying assumption that more precision is better. © The Author(s) 2010.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543-566
Number of pages23
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011


  • ethics
  • non-combatant protection
  • technology
  • war
  • Western warfare


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