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Challenges in the Interpretation and Application of the Principle of Distinction During Ground Opera

Updated: May 12, 2020

Author: Colonel Noam Neuman


This Article focuses on the tension between the often-referred-to articulation of the principle of distinction, as reflected in Additional Protocol I, and four practices that have been continuously employed in ground operations by most if not all of the world’s militaries: masking, firing warning shots, breaching structures, and maneuvering with heavy machinery. These practices may very well result in incidental harm to civilians or incidental damage to civilian objects, yet they are either directed at an object that is not necessarily a military objective or they are not directed at any object or person at all. In light of the sheer universality of these practices for many decades—both before and after the conclusion of Additional Protocol I—this Article proposes four preliminary lines of thought that may help in gaining a better understanding of Additional Protocol I’s provisions as well as their application in ground operations.


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