The Social Construction of Precision


LAC Burkhardt


Political Science


For residence at the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during academic year 2016-2017


“Precision” has become a mainstay of global military doctrine: the need to adopt technologically-precise weaponry, technology capable of hitting targets with extraordinary accuracy, is extolled as both a military and humanitarian necessity of contemporary war. This project has three aims. First, to ask how it is weapons come to be defined as “precise.” This may seem obvious on the face of it. But in reality that weapons with massive collateral damage, including strategic bombers and nuclear weapons, have been touted as “precise.” Second, the project asks why some technology is constructed as “precision” technology. Finally, this project explores how precise warfare has become equated with legitimate warfare, arguing that a serious debate about the justness of strategy and outcomes requires a clearer understanding of what is meant by precision, and the limits of precision in wartime.