29/08/2017 This content is not up to date

War on Terror and Disappearance of the Battlefield

The Global War on Terror’s policy of targeted killing is transforming the character of war and undercutting the means to regulate it.

The classical image of the battlefield evokes a bounded physical space in which massed armies clash for a day in search of a decisive resolution. Such battles feature prominently throughout recorded history and continue to inform contemporary conceptions of the battlefield. Yet this traditional image of the battlefield was already a fading reality in the twentieth century. Over the course of two world wars, the zones of offensive operations expanded across continents and civilian populations became targets of intense aerial bombardment under the doctrine of total war. The Cold War took place against the ever-present backdrop of a possible nuclear conflagration of apocalyptic proportions, with the antagonism between the superpowers consequently displaced into a persistent state of worldwide struggle, ranging from proxy wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan to competition in the space race and the arts. The bounded, unitary battlefield is, however, facing perhaps its greatest challenge today in the context of the on-going War on Terror. Indeed, global military campaigns of targeted killing threaten to undermine the laws of war devised to regulate and constrain the use of armed force.

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Antoine Bousquet is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Department of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London.