Monday 11 Oct 2021 | 23:42 | SYDNEY
Monday 11 Oct 2021 | 23:42 | SYDNEY

Hit and miss


Sam Roggeveen


19 November 2009 11:51

Kevin Drum links to some startling (for me) statistical analysis on the Duck of Minerva blog about 'collateral damage' in wartime. The analysis looks at accidental civilian deaths in interstate wars from 1823 to 2003, finding that there has been a steady increase.

I've long held the view that technological trends are making wars less bloody and more just, in the sense that precision-guided munitions improve the ability of military forces to discriminate between the enemy and innocent bystanders. Back in 2002, I even contributed a book chapter making precisely this argument, so you can see how such statistics might be a blow to my theory — I expected to see a downward trend from about 1990.

Not that this graph is the last word on the subject. Dan Drezner comments that 'this is a blog post, not the American Political Science Review', and commenters on Drum's blog point to various explanations for the findings, the most obvious being that over the period of the data, war has become gradually more urbanised, and warfighting has ceased to be the preserve solely of uniformed soldiers, making it harder to tell fighters from civilians.

One troubling possibility is that the availability of 'clean' precision-guided weapons just makes it more tempting for states to fight. But there's really no way to reverse the technological trend; the Small Diameter Bomb is the latest thing, and it takes the 'small but accurate' model to a new level.

Photo by Flickr user alanbenzie, used under a Creative Commons license.