Knowing and Seeing the Combatant. War, Counterinsurgency and Targeting in International Law

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


Knowing and Seeing the Combatant investigates how does the US counterinsurgent forces make distinction between civilians and combatants during targeting practices? This dissertation is specifically focused on the visual dynamics of the contemporary targeting and as such argues that the insurgent's withdrawal from the obligation of visual self-identification as targets by not wearing military uniform reveals a complicated logic of target-ability in the laws of armed conflict (LOAC).
Focusing on the legal, political and visual functions of the military uniform, this dissertation argues that LOAC legitimises lethal violence by reliance on a particular conception of human target that can be summarised as a nexus of ‘knowledge – contribution to adversarial militarised willpower – and Vision – material modes of visibility and invisibility’. This nexus of targetability, I show, is exclusively enacted by the military uniform in LOAC. The absence of the military uniform in insurgencies and the subsequent turn of the US military towards the use of technologies of visualisation for targeting purposes – in particular disposition matrix – are more than simply being ways of neutralising the invisibility of the insurgents. They are, as argued here, technologies deployed by the US to not only liberalise the geography, temporality or the ethics of targeting, but also to imply a claim of legitimacy for an expansive recasting of civilians as targets of lethal force. One function of the new technologies is indeed to make discriminate targeting, in its literal sense, possible. Yet this research is concerned with the capacity of these visual practices to present that targeting as a legitimate and legally defensible violence.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Faculty of Law
  • Noll, Gregor, Supervisor
  • Brännström, Leila, Supervisor
Award date2017 May 16
Place of PublicationLund
ISBN (Print)9789177532002
ISBN (electronic) 9789177532019
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2017-05-16
Time: 10:15
Place: Pufendorfsalen, Juridiska institutionen, Lilla Gråbrödersgatan 3C, Lund
External reviewer(s)
Name: Werner, Wouter
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Law


  • public international law
  • the principle of distinction
  • targeting
  • the international law of targeting
  • counterinsurgency
  • US Army
  • technologies of visualisation
  • knowledge-vision
  • military uniform
  • disposition matrix
  • war


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