Be careful what you ask for : the unintended consequences of new restrictions on fires in urban areas
Geoffrey S. Corn
Complex battlespaces : the law of armed conflict and the dynamics of modern warfare
New York : Oxford University Press, 2019
Aleppo, Syria—a city that will join the infamous likes of Nanking, Stalingrad, Manila, Berlin, Hue, Panama City, Mogadishu, Grozny, and Donetsk as one of modern history’s worst urban war zones. Much of the destruction in this city is the result of indirect fires and air-delivered munitions. Indeed, this is the case in Aleppo; the now-infamous “barrel bomb” has become synonymous with indiscriminate Syrian government attacks against rebel-held areas of the city. In response to the humanitarian dangers associated with the use of such weapons in urban and built-up areas, there is a growing trend among international humanitarian law advocates to severely restrict—or even ban outright—the use of fires, high-explosive munitions, and associated weapons systems in built-up civilian population centers. These humanitarian initiatives reveal that for proponents of such restraint, the “problem” of high explosives in populated areas, whether delivered by indirect fire systems or air assets, is critical. The core premise of this chapter is that new restrictions on urban fires may actually exacerbate civilian risk and that fires in support of urban operations are not only operationally essential, but may, when properly employed, actually reduce risk to civilians and civilian property. Accordingly, civilian risk mitigation efforts should continue to focus on enhancing commitment to and compliance with already existing attack precautions and law of armed conflict (LOAC) targeting obligations.