A subsequent version of this paper was published in the African Security Review.
Important work has been done recently on operationalizing military protection of civilians. Initiatives by the UN, individual nations, and NGOs have tried to translate the general mandate to protect civilians from attack and abuse into specic strategic and tactical principles. Most of this work has focused on how militaries ought to react to direct attacks on civilians, but thinking about civilian protection should also include a serious examination of the ways in which the approach of military organizations to the problem of "spoiler" groups can aect the level and dynamics of attacks on civilians--where armed groups are interested in violent control of civilian populations, attempts to "dislodge" them may substantially increase the level of violence against civilians (beyond the dangers to be expected from being near active fighting). In 2009, the UN supported the Democratic Republic of the Congo's military in operations to dismantle the Hutu-dominated FDLR militia, at massive human cost. Critics have primarily focused on the UN's failure to protect civilians from direct attack, consonant with the general discourse on tactics. These criticisms are valid, but in this essay I argue that two additional considerations should be kept in mind: the way that military operations can affect violence against civilians, and the way that moralizing the approach to armed groups can limit military and political options for protecting civilians.