Targeted Killing Research Paper

Pages: 10 (3066 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 12  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Terrorism

Targeted killing has become an essential tool used in the conduct of foreign policy especially in the practice of the Middle East given the substantial number of killings of the terrorist attacks. The common practice of targeted killing in the framework of the asymmetrical confrontation with the terrorist threat has determined great debates in terms of the morality and ethic nature of the practice. Aside from the discussions on the legitimacy of targeted killings under international law, one of the most significant issues related to targeted killing focuses on the way in which such a practice can be considered as moral and ethically justifiable in the political practice.

From the point-of-view of the state politics, targeted killing may be a moral and ethical approach to deal with the issue of terrorist groups. However, the international law provides only a limited framework for such legitimacy. More precisely, the state is responsible for the safety and protection of its citizens as a prerequisite of its sovereignty and therefore may engage in any course of action considered fit; at the same time though, the state must respect the provisions of international law which in turn determines the rights of the non-combatants and the combatant personnel.

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Given the volatile nature of the international scene, the terrorist threat is one of the most difficult challenges of the 21st century and there are limited capabilities that can prevent terrorist groups to act against the democratic principles of most nations. Therefore, it can be concluded that, despite the precepts of international law and with due regard to the abuses and general terms of the notion of targeted killings, such actions can make the difference between averting a new 9/11 attach and are therefore ethically correct and morally supported.

TOPIC: Research Paper on Targeted Killing Assignment

Targeted killing is an issue that takes into full account different aspects of the conduct of politics. It is not merely a means through which realpolitik is conducted but also a matter of political morality and ethical conduct. The forces engaged in modern types of wars are equal neither in size nor intensity; their political goals or political stands do not reflect the same values and norms and in this asymmetrical conflict states make use of all means available to ensure the security of its population. Given the fact that the state is seen as the legitimate representation of the individual, the question on the morality of the acts of the state are entitled. In this regard, theories have been determined in order to analyze the ethics and morality of targeted killings.

The research question has therefore two dimensions. The prerequisites are that politics have not been always conducted in the 21st century manner. Since the Vienna Congress in 1815 when realpolitik was officially crowned as state politics, state conduct focused more on power relations and state interest rather than the ethics and morality of its action. At the time of the realpolitik the state was a rational actor on the international scene. Realpolitik ethics did not include the type of ethical discussions that are taking place at the moment. At the same time, terrorism is a challenge for the national state and the international community is yet to provide a viable solution on handling the threat.

The research question focuses on means through which the international community can accommodate the responses envisaged by the states with the ethical and moral challenges that such actions as targeted killings imply.

Review of literature

There are two important aspects to consider. There is the issue of the legitimacy of targeted killing under international law; however, there are the aspects of the ethics and morality of targeted killing as a tool for conducting foreign policy. One of the best sources in this respect is Thomas Hunter's "Targeted Killing" which makes a very comprehensive analysis of the entire concept. Hunter defines this type of killing as being different from assassination during wartime; it is a risk from a political perspective with severe international implications; it is both positive and negative from the consequences it has and exposes usually civilians to unintentional harm. To quote Hunter, a targeted killing is "an 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" (Hunter, 2009, pag. 2).

Nils Melzer shows in his work "Targeted Killing in International Law" that state-sponsored or State-directed killing is, obviously against the international law, as it doesn't offer enough legal evidence to support it. Melzer does admit however that there are a number of cases in military warfare where, at a certain level of clearance, these could be accepted. One of the questions that Melzer does not fully answer is what is a legitimate military target as it can be defined differently, depending what side or country is offering the definition. In the case of Osama bin Laden, it appears that he was a legitimate target, despite contradictions.

In terms of the second aspect of the topic, the actual ethic value and morality of the practice, Kasher and Yadlin view targeted killings in the general context of a new theory that must explain the conduct of the new type of war waged against terrorists. This theory takes into account the morality and ethics that need to be at the foundation of the state decisions taken by the decision maker bodies. These types of theories are developed based on the experiences that the Palestinian conflict has provided in the last six decades of history in the Middle East.

Ariel Colonomos considers that the great powers of the world nowadays are bound by a sense of accountability to its nationals but at the same time by the need and desire to consider its actions as being legitimate from a moral and ethical perspective (2006). This is largely due to the fact that the world we live in needs the formal legitimization of state actions and, as a result of the continuous globalization of the world politics, states survive in an overall agreed upon environment of legitimacy and ethical values because there are defining for a democratic state.

Maja Zehfuss connects the issue of targeted killing to that of the protection of non-combatants (2010). Targeted killing can be seen as a means through which the killing of non-combatants is reduced in a war particularly because it shortens it by targeting the head of the group and not the destruction of an entire group. Such an approach provides benefits in the sense that it reduces civilian casualties and any unnecessary victims among non-combatants.


Targeted killing is a rather complex aspect; the fight against terrorism implies the use of different means through which the asymmetrical discrepancies between the forces of terrorist activities can be countered by the actions of a state. The state is by no a flexible construction; it represents a rigid structure that cannot adapt to any situation without a necessary time for reaction. In opposition, the terrorist groups are small and agile organisms that can benefit from the element of surprise as well as mobility across borders and beyond any political regime. This contrast is determinant for the way in which asymmetrical wars are fought. This is perhaps one of the most important reasons for which the use of targeted killings is crucial for the conduct of both foreign policy and self-defense when opposed the term to one country or state entity. Therefore, targeted killing, as part of a political and strategic conduct in an asymmetrical war, can be seen as being ethical and moral, provided that its justification entails the common good of protection of the individuals of a state.


Kasher and Yadlin argue that first and foremost, the state has the right and the obligation to ensure the safety and security of its population. Barry Buzan's definition of security and threat during the Cold War was lo longer restricted to military security or to threats related exclusively to the physical integrity of a population. More precisely, Buzan viewed the notion of security as being intimately related to economic, social, cultural, and political integrity of the population as well (Buzan, 1983). Therefore, the principle of self-defense duty is from this point-of-view one of the most important aspects that offers both legitimacy and ethical backbone to any action that is aimed at preventive attacks to the security and safety of a population. Put differently, "We take the defense of the life and well-being of citizens against danger posed by terror to be a prime duty of a democratic state. Different societies manifest the value they ascribe to human life and well being in their cultural practices and formal institutions" (Kasher and Yadlin, p8).

By comparison, this general notion explained and discussed in academic and scholarly debates can most of the times be subject to abuses. For instance, the declaration of the War on terror and the fight against terrorism has determined a series of abuses that are to this debatable. As Michael Gross pointed out "The… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Targeted Killing" Research Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Targeted Killing.  (2011, November 29).  Retrieved December 5, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Targeted Killing."  29 November 2011.  Web.  5 December 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Targeted Killing."  November 29, 2011.  Accessed December 5, 2021.