Wednesday, January 18, 2012

False Flags

It is a violation of the Geneva Conventions (Article 39) for a soldier to abuse emblems of nationality. That is, one member of a nation cannot pretend to be a member of another nation under certain circumstances in combat. Such false flag operations explicitly include wearing the uniform of the enemy.

But what about the case of someone from country A posing as an agent of country B to trick agents of country C to fight against country D, which A, B, and C don't like anyway, where C would not participate in because they are enemies of A, but allied with B in a case where A and B are not technically at war?

It sounds like a slightly more complicated version of the prohibited act.  However, the reason for the prohibition, I assume, is because it is such a "dirty trick" that causes members of country B from trusting each other. In this case, it will cause members of B to stop trusting C.

In any case, this happened or anyway, seemed to have allegedly happened. Israel, as the story goes, undertook such a false flag operation in Pakistan. Some Mossad agents tricked some Pakistanis into thinking it was the CIA to get the Pakistanis to plot against Iran, something they were happy to do for the US, but would certainly not have done for Israel because of the generally anti-Israel sentiment in Pakistan. (Israel has been the victim of straight forward violations of such false flag tactics when members of Hizbullah were killed in full IDF uniforms in Lebanon in 2006. See around 1:18 into this video.)

So the questions I have are first, is the Geneva Convention barring use of such "perfidious tactics" still reasonable?  It sounds like it would make for a more "civilized war" but does it really reflect a code of honor that anyone really cares about? Second, is it really immoral?  My gut tells me that most things are fair in love and war, and this does not really cross any threshold of gross immorality.  Posing as the enemy seem like a clever trick, not an immoral action. (It is the heart of the plot for almost every Mission: Impossible episode ever made.) It is not like abusing a flag of surrender. That would mess up the way peace can be accomplished. Using other nations' uniform doesn't seem nearly as bad. Finally, how broadly should false flag operations be interpreted? Should the prohibition extend to all cases, including the one in Pakistan or should it be confined to the strict traditional boundaries of using the enemies' uniforms in a time of war?


(Updated to reflect story developments.)

1 comment:

  1. Before I can put together any form of intelligent thought on the subject, I should first go to the Military Deception Planners Course and receive my ASI in MILDEC. That being said at my current amateur level, I do agree that some of histories best military victories can be shown to be attained due to basic military deception. Is it moral? This question can only be answered by those who earn the title of "victors".