Targeted Killings and the Strategic Use of Self-Defense

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Although governments that engage in targeted killing will usually invoke self-defence as a primary justification, they often seem on thin ice in doing so. We frequently have the sense that there is something very strategic and dishonest in the way self-defence is utilized in such cases. The most obvious example is the case in which the government uses an agent provocateur to induce a potential terrorist to take actions for which it then proceeds to kill him — in ‘self-defence’. This chapter examines a series of such strategic situations and suggests that, appearances notwithstanding, there is in fact nothing illegitimate about using self-defence in such strategic ways. That is not to say that our persistent unease about what governments are doing in such cases is without significance. But its significance turns out to lie mostly in what it teaches us about certain counterintuitive features of legal and moral rules, which is another that is explore here.


targeted killing, self-defence, justification, legal rules, moral rules

Publication Title

Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World