Research Handbook on International Conflict and Security Law

Research Handbook on International Conflict and Security Law

Jus ad Bellum, Jus in Bello and Jus post Bellum

Research Handbooks in International Law series

Edited by Nigel White and Christian Henderson

This innovative Research Handbook brings together leading international law scholars from around the world to discuss and highlight the contemporary debate regarding issues of conflict prevention and the legality of resorting to the use of armed force through to those arising during an armed conflict and in the phase between conflict and peace.

Chapter 10: Targets

David Turns

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, public international law, terrorism and security law, politics and public policy, human rights, international politics, terrorism and security


It is entirely uncontroversial to assert, in the early 21st century, that the principles and rules of the jus in bello relating to the selection of targets and the prosecution of attacks during armed conflict are in practical terms among the most important in the entire corpus of contemporary international humanitarian law (hereinafter ‘IHL’). From sustained airstrikes on hostile territory to individual targeted killings of identified hostile leaders, the definition and identification of targets are a vital aspect of contemporary military operations. Yet this now-indisputable proposition is very much a product of certain historical trends in the evolution of means and methods of warfare and of weapons technology that have only manifested themselves in the last hundred years; the relevant detailed substantive rules of treaty law – although admittedly not the relevant general principles of customary law – are less than four decades old, while it was a mere twenty years ago4 that it first became evident in practice that the military legal adviser’s daily functions on the battlefield included the operationally crucial task of giving legal advice to commanders as to the lawfulness of attacking particular targets. These timelines are minuscule in the context of the millennia of history behind the laws of war. The targeting aspect of the modern international law of armed conflict (hereinafter ‘LOAC’) is simultaneously very widely discussed in contemporary Western liberal- democratic societies engaged in such conflicts – thanks to the modern prevalence of continuous media reporting from battle zones – and very widely misunderstood,

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