It has long been considered inevitable that during armed conflict cultural heritage will be damaged and destroyed. Whilst there has been widespread consideration of how to protect communities, their heritage has not received the same thought. Although their advice was largely ignored, for over 2,500 years military theorists – from Sun Tzu in 6th century BC China to von Clausewitz in 19th century Europe – have argued that damaging and destroying the cultural heritage of vanquished enemies is bad military practice , highlighting how its destruction and/or pillage can make occupied communities less easy to control, and can provide justification for the next conflict.
Cultural heritage includes tangible places (such as historic sites and buildings), and movable artefacts (like archives, libraries, art, and museum collections). These are collectively often referred to as cultural property. It also includes intangible remains of the past such as song, dance, and oral traditions remembered and ‘carried’ by individuals and communities. However, cultural property protection is frequently dismissed.
Under international law, a US airstrike on a mosque would only be permissible if the damage inflicted is proportional to the military gain, a consideration that would include the cultural or historical relevance of the site. By setting up command posts inside mosques, experts said, militants may be luring the United States into strikes that inflame the local population.
Jack Detsche, “US mosque strikes point to looser targeting rules in fight against Islamic State”,writing for Al-Monitor, 28 October 2018
In a paper for NATO, members of the Blue Shield question whether damage and destruction of cultural property really are inevitable, or whether at least some might be mitigated and avoided if appropriate action were taken. This open access paper demonstrates why CPP is important to the military, reflects on recent CPP activity, and concludes with some recommendations.