Some of the most limiting constraints on future U.S. urban military actions are not going to be technological or operational. They are going to be legal and political. Recent U.S. and coalition operations in the Balkans and elsewhere have been marked by heated controversy over target selection and have demonstrated the difficulty of balancing the often competing concerns of avoiding collateral damage, minimizing risk of U.S. casualties, and maximizing military effectiveness.
To be sure, legal and political constraints are not independent of technological and operational constraints—expanded capabilities or new operational concepts may provide means of reducing or avoiding collateral damage and enhancing force protection, and they may inform the public perceptions that drive legal and political constraints. But, in planning for urban combat, the most salient limitations on U.S. military action are often self-imposed, in the form of adherence to international legal norms and restrictive rules of engagement to satisfy public and diplomatic pressures.
Urban environments pose enormous difficulties for those planning and conducting military operations within the boundaries of international law and self-imposed political constraints. The speed and agility of air power, combined with its ability to deliver firepower precisely and with relatively low risk to U.S. personnel across the spectrum of conflict, often make it the military instrument of choice for policymakers. However, the heightened risk of collateral damage when operating in urban environments partially offsets U.S. technological superiority and provides adversaries with expanded opportu