Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Despite a growing research agenda centered on issues of civilian immunity, it remains unclear what effect norms protecting civilians have on state behavior, especially democracies. This study asks when and how the civilian immunity norm (CIN) matters, specifically examining how it alters short term strategic choices and even long term doctrines.

Employing a constructivist approach to examine shifting attitudes toward civilians within the military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, this study argues that democracies will choose strategic outcomes that strengthen compliance with the CIN when they see the constraining normative environment as a key part of the strategic environment. Legitimacy is argued to be the causal mechanism driving interests and identities to align more closely with the human rights-based aspects of the international order.

My argument, based on a social conception of power, hinges on the observation that state interests change over time and that this is evident as sovereignty-based attitudes toward civilian casualties move toward a more constraining, human rights-based outlook. I identify three conditions under which this occurs: when the normative/discursive framework of protecting civilians is seen as essential to delegitimizing the enemy; when the legitimacy of the initial invasion is in question, and civilian casualties are seen as damaging to the international image by increasing that gap; finally, when regaining a monopoly on force is seen as impossible to achieve through material force alone because civilian casualties increase support for the insurgency. Together, these provide the conditions under which aligning strategy and doctrine with human rights-centered norms eventually come to be seen as the only viable strategy in fighting wars among the people.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.