Date Available


Year of Publication


Document Type



Arts and Sciences


Political Science

First Advisor

Karen A. Mingst


Should U.S. political decision-makers decide to wage a moral war, it is not as easy a merely saying go do it. To ensure moral targeting decisions, American national political leaders must suffer the costs of monitoring in terms of time and money, and provide not only detailed direction, but also constant oversight to ensure objectives are clear and subordinates carry out directions. Military officers must ensure that their motivations align with those of their principals, and they must ensure that constraining doctrine for planning and executing combat operations is followed. Having satisfied these variables, moral targeting decisions, wherein proportionality of non-combatant casualties is weighed against target necessity, should then be easily attainable. The process of aligning motivations with respect to desired outcomes, and the process of planning strategies according to doctrine together lead to moral targeting decisions. By following the processes of getting war plans approved according to published U.S. doctrine, a deliberate dialogue is followed with direction and feedback through several steps of planning and approval that result in multiple people working on a product that results in a sort of corporate buy- in. I posit that it is difficult to follow this process and end up with targeting decisions that do not weigh harm to non-combatants against the necessity of individual targets, especially when principals and agents come together to deliberately ensure they align their motivations with respect to objectives. This theory is applicable to U.S. involvement in war, but is not necessarily generalizable to other countries. Through case studies of American involvement in Desert Storm (the first Gulf War), Operation Allied Force (NATOs air war over Serbia), and the U.S. War on Terror (campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq), I find that only in the War on Terror were moral targeting decisions consistently made by US national leaders. Furthermore, that was the only case study wherein both constraining doctrine was present and principal-agent motivations were aligned with respect to objectives. The other two cases showed that the variables were not followed and proportionality- necessity decisions were not made.



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