Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Political Science

Content Description

1 online resource (iv, 348 pages) : color illustrations

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Victor Asal

Committee Members

Bryan Early, Kathleen Deloughery


aerial bombardment, airpower, Laws of War, noncombatant immunity, norms, Bombing, Aerial, Bombardment, Civilian war casualties, Combatants and noncombatants (International law), Just war doctrine, Military history, Modern

Subject Categories

International Relations | Political Science


It is has been said that "All is fair in love and war" (Orend 2000, 62); however, the norm of noncombatant immunity has developed to such a degree over the centuries that all is not fair or legal in war. Civilians and civilian property, cultural sites, hospitals, and places of worship enjoy protection under international law. When applied to aerial bombardment, the norm of noncombatant immunity, titled the "bombing norm" by Ward Thomas, had a tough time getting off the ground after the invention of the airplane in the early 20th century. The norm evaporated in World War II and air forces descended into indiscriminate bombing resulting in massive civilian casualties in Europe and Asia. Thomas claims that after World War II the bombing norm found new life and that states increasingly are restraining their use of aerial bombardment due to building international opinion that the intentional or even the unintentional yet disproportionate killing of civilians by aerial bombardment is unacceptable. The literature proposed five primary explanatory factors for states' compliance or non-compliance with the bombing norm. These factors included norms, regime type, strategic necessity, technology, and air services' cultures and bombing doctrines. The majority opinion of scholars of civilian victimization is that strategic necessity explains states' adherence or non-adherence to the bombing norm. That is to say states, whether democratic or authoritarian, will adhere to noncombatant immunity if strategic circumstances do not seem to require its violation, but they will violate the norm if deemed necessary to achieve victory or prevent defeat. My research effort examined four states' conduct of aerial bombardment post-World War II across 40 armed conflicts to ascertain whether norms, specifically democratic norms, or strategic necessity best explained the historical record. My primary finding is that a combination of democratic norms and strategic necessity rather than strategic necessity alone best fit the historical record.