The Instigator
Pro (for)
28 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Targeted Killing

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Voting Style: Open with Elo Restrictions Point System: Select Winner
Started: 6/21/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 884 times Debate No: 56960
Debate Rounds (5)
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Votes (4)





I would like to thank Pensive for this interesting challenge--to pick any topic within 20 minutes and challenge him to it. I think this should be a fun experience for both of us, and I look forward to the debate :)

Full Topic

Targeted killing is a morally permissible foreign policy tool.

What is Targeted Killing

According to Tom Hunter, of the Defense Intelligence Agency targeted killing is “the premeditated, preemptive, and deliberate killing of an individual or individuals known to represent a clear and present threat to the safety and security of a state through affiliation with terrorist groups or individuals.” Hunter further makes a distinction between assassination and targeted killing, stating, “assassination is a killing conducted against an individual or individuals for purely political or ideological reasons. Targeted killing, in sum, is a killing conducted against an individual or individuals without regard for politics or ideology, but rather exclusively for reasons of state self-defense.”


1. No forfeits
2. All citations must be provided in the text of the debate
3. No new arguments in the final round
4. Maintain a civil and decorous atmosphere
5. BOP lies on Pro to show that TK is morally permissible and on Con to show that it is not
6. Violation of any of these rules or of any of the R1 set-up merits a loss


R1: Acceptance
R2: Constructive Cases
R3: Rebuttals
R4: Rebuttals
R5: Rebuttals, Final Focus


...again to Pensive for accepting this debate! :)



"Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war" - William Shakespeare

I graciously accept your challange.
Debate Round No. 1


I thank Pensive for this debate!


What does moral permissibility denote? Permissible means allowable [1], indicating that if something is permissible, it is allowed but not necessarily encouraged or obligated. Moral means "conforming to standards of right conduct." [2] What I must show then, is that the principles of morality do not prohibit targeted killing (TK). Conversely, Con must show that TK is prohibited by moral principles.

Ultimately, a government, when implementing foreign policy, must prioritize the interests of its own citizens. A government earns its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, and the government of a given state is charged with the overriding duty to ensure the welfare of those whom it governs. George Kennan writes, "let us recognize that the functions, commitments and obligations of governments are not the same as those of the individual. Government is an agent, not a principal. Its primary obligation is to the interests of the national society it represents, not to the moral impulses that individual elements of that society may experience."

So, when making considerations of foreign policy, a government operates under the injunction to act in the best interests of its people. To do otherwise would violate a basic moral principle; i.e. the idea that it is right for the government to fulfill its obligations to its people under the social contract. For a government to uphold its duties under this concept, it must look to an evaluation of ends. Prof. Gary Woller explains why an ends-based standard is needed when referencing governmental actors: "public policies inevitably entail trade-offs among competing values. Thus since policymakers cannot justify inherent value conflicts to the public in any philosophical sense...the policymakers' duty to the public interest requires them to demonstrate that their policies are somehow to the overall advantage of society."

Therefore, my thesis is that TK is a morally permissible foreign policy tool if its use or inclusion in the foreign policy toolbox is helpful in allowing a government to protect its national interests.


Contention One: TK Effectively Disrupts Terrorist Groups

Loss of Leadership and Skilled Personnel

“Terrorists themselves consider the loss of members of its leadership to be...dangerous to...cohesion...Intelligence analysts have found a trend among militants in the region denying the veracity of reports of the deaths of their leaders in order to prevent dissension and fights over power...within the ranks..Concerns over spies have begun to create ‘tension’ within the echelons of the Taliban, with even heretofore ‘trusted men’ falling under suspicion...Targeted killings can assist states in combating their enemies through creating paranoia within the organization in the wake of a targeted killing.” [3] “The personal charisma and professional skills of the leaders and key figures of certain organizations are crucial to the success of their organizations, something that is especially true with regard to terror organizations that operate underground with no clear institutional structure...Killing such individuals will gradually make it more difficult for the terror machinery to function." [4] “Targeted killings have impeded the effectiveness of...terrorist organizations where leadership, planning, and tactical skills are confined to a few key individuals. There are a limited number of people who have the technical ability to make bombs and plan attacks. If these people are eliminated, the ability to mount attacks is degraded." [5]


We can look to examples such as the death of Osama bin Laden, which had myriad positive impacts, from the U.S.'s point of view, to evidence the theoretical arguments supplied above. bin Laden's death "will hamper [terrorists'] operations. It will make them hunker down and become less effective because they know they can’t operate as openly. This won’t put an end to terrorism, but America now looks stronger and more effective in fighting it." [6] His death also is likely to reduce al-Qaeda's and other extremist groups' ability to fundraise. [7]

Other examples of TK, including the assault on Anwar Awlaki also had major effects on the war on terror. "The sheer number of senior Islamist militants killed in the last 18 months has had a massive impact on the group. Not only has its leader gone but the upper ranks of the central leadership and of many of the affiliates have been 'hollowed out'...The ability of al-Qaida or linked groups to launch a spectacular attack on the scale of 9/11 has been much reduced as a result. And the removal of Awlaki means the end of a stream of particularly effective propaganda. Though there are a handful of others within al-Qaida and its affiliates who could take on the role of interpreting the message for non-Arabic speakers, none have Awlaki's talent or apparent erudition." [8] "The deaths of both al-Awlaki and Khan can be expected to greatly hamper AQAP's efforts to radicalize and equip English-speaking Muslims. The group may have other native English speakers, but individuals who possess the charisma and background of al-Awlaki or the graphics and editorial skills of Khan are difficult to come by in Yemen. The al Qaeda franchise's English-language outreach is certain to face a significant setback." [9]

Targeting Grunts Also Effective

Terrorist groups “consist of three layers: political-military command, intermediate level, and what can be referred to as the ‘ground troops.’ The political-military command echelon...consists of a small group, no more than a dozen activists, responsible for funding, political, and spiritual guidance, and direction of the organization's strategy. They maintain regular contact with the headquarters of terrorist groups throughout the Arab world as well as with senior leaders of the PA and chiefs of its security forces. The intermediate level of command is a group slightly larger in size, a few dozens…Its members are involved in planning operations, and recruiting, training, arming, and dispatching terrorists…Members of this group…meet frequently with the senior leadership and receive daily orders and funds to finance their operations. Unlike members of the first group, intermediate-level activists are not so familiar to the public, and their killing does not evoke the same rage as does the targeting of senior leaders." [10] Therefore, the death of lower-level members are unlikely to provoke retaliatory response.

Furthermore, the loss of these lower-tier members still has the effect of generating paranoia, insofar as other members see that if you are identified as being a part of a terrorist group and are located, you could be next on the kill list. This reduces your willingness to cooperate with others in your group or to communicate with them, for fear that they may be spies or that those transmission may be intercepted.

Contention Two: Offense is the Best Defense

“Targeted killings have impeded the effectiveness of Palestinian terrorist organizations where leadership, planning, and tactical skills are confined to a few key individuals. There are a limited number of people who have the technical ability to make bombs and plan attacks. If these people are eliminated, the ability to mount attacks is degraded. There is some evidence that targeted killings have reduced the performance of Palestinian operations...There is little question that Israel’s policy has hurt the capability of its adversaries to prosecute attacks. Terrorism is essentially an offensive action, making counteroffensive actions such as targeted killing an especially effective response. It is exceedingly difficult for Israel to defend or deter terror attacks from Palestinians. In terms of defense, there are literally tens of thousands of targets in Israel for Palestinian terrorists. Power stations, government bureaus, bus depots, airports, skyscrapers, open-air markets, sport stadiums...the list is endless. It is impossible to defend them all, especially against a determined adversary that can choose the time and place of attack. Although some level of deterrence of terrorism is achievable, dissuading potential terrorists is not easy when they are eager to die for their cause. In such situations, the best response to terrorism is to eliminate the threat before it can be launched. One of the most successful means of eliminating terrorists before they can strike is targeted killing.” [5]

Contention Three: Tool in the Toolkit

In Con's world, TK would be impermissible (not allowed). It makes sense that, even if TK does not work in all cases, that we don’t rule it out, because there may a come a time when it will be the best option. Flexibility is key to empowering a government to respond in the most effective way to threats. Therefore, TK should be justified as a tool in our toolkit; it doesn’t need to be used in every case, but it should be there in case we need it.


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5 - David, Steven R., 2002, [Associate Dean at Johns Hopkins University] “Fatal Choices: Israel's Policy of Targeted Killing,” The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies Bar-Ilan University, Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 51.
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PensiveBacon forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


I must confess to being somewhat peeved since my opponent sought out this challenge and forfeited. If we was going to be unable to debate, he could have done me the courtesy of informing me before hand.

Regardless, as per rules 1 and 6, a Pro ballot is called for. Thank you, please VOTE PRO.


PensiveBacon forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


Extend all point.


PensiveBacon forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4


As my opponent has failed to provide any argument, I ask that you please VOTE PRO. Thank you!


PensiveBacon forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
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Vote Placed by 9spaceking 2 years ago
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Vote Placed by Wylted 2 years ago
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Vote Placed by ESocialBookworm 2 years ago
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