Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Proportion" in war
I have always been fascinated by the concept of 'proportionate response' in hostile activities. Usually utilised during isolated once-off attacks, where one country is 'allowed' a proportionate response to an attack on it's soil. For example, an attack on a country's citizens that killed 10 people, may find a 'proportionate response' retaliation of the bombing of their state sponsor's party headquarters and ammunitions with fewer casualties. Such analysis of 'proportionate response' are weighed up in cabinet war rooms all the time, but the cry is often of double standards.

Many of Israel's critics have decried their bombing and artillery campaigns over the past two weeks as being beyond proportionate, but in my view, this misses the point. Israel is not involved in isolated attacks on its sovereignty, but a sustained, low-level war waged by a number of state sponsored groups in countries completely surrounding the country. Now, I'm not going to go into the argument of Israel's right to exist, I'm pro-Israel but we can have that debate at another time. The point here is that Israel's response is measured against a backdrop of continued threat, and the response is to defeat an enemy in Hezbollah, not find a proportionate response to the kidnapping of the soldiers. Your view on this will always be framed by your views on the Middle East in general, and most particularly, on Israel's position within it.

The NY Times carries a good article on this issue of "proportionate response" - well worth a read.