Monday, August 26, 2013

I Got Your Proportional Response Right Here, Pal

Personally I've always thought that the idea of "proportional response" is stupid.  I'm gratified to see that I am not alone. Great line here: "Let's not speak of proportional military action. Let's speak of effective military action."  Why, yes.


lumpy said...

There's a lot of confusion about the term 'proportion' in warfare. A LOT of anti-Isreali types have misapplied this term so often that the wrong definition has stuck in the popular mind. And so we have to deal with that meaning as well, blast it. It's so common that Walter Russell Mead used it in an article this way. We've lost the propaganda war on this, so maybe the rest is irrelevant, but I'll put it out there anyway.

That misapplication is the idea that if someone kills one of your soldiers, you can only kill one of his, or if he only shoots rifles at you, you can only use rifles to fight back. Anti-Isreali propagandists have used this misunderstanding to great effect.

However, it's wrong. In the law of land warfare, proportionality has nothing to do with that sort of thing. The proportions are the military objective and the military force needed to achieve that objective. Obeying the principle of proportionality is using no more force than you need to accomplish your objective.

That means, if Assad has made a limited chemical strike, and your goal is to keep him from making another, you use enough force to keep him from making another. The amount of force you are allowed under proportionality has nothing to do with the amount of force the enemy has used.

So, hypothetically, if your goal is to wipe out an enemy infantry platoon walking through open territory, a nuclear bomb or a 5,000-round artillery barrage would both be violations of proportionality. If, on the other hand, your goal is to eliminate the deeply entrenched North Korean artillery positions along the DMZ, nukes may be your only option, and that's fine even if NK's only provocation is a few dozen normal artillery rounds fired without effect at ROK positions. If it breaks the ceasefire and triggers a war, then it's on.

Eric said...

"Effective military action" was a guiding Bush principle after 9/11, therefore by definition it is bad, evil, wrong, stupid, [fill in slanderous adjective here].

When the guiding principle is don't do what Bush did, but Bush was right, there's only one other way to go.

Eric said...


Good point. At the same time, I think 'effective' is the more precise and accurate term for the intended use.

'Proportional' has enough wiggle room to apply to the environmental effect - which I agree with you is the rational application - or to the enemy's action out of context.