"The Paradox of Riskless Warfare," Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly, Summer 2002.
The fundamental moral fact about war is that the innocent are appropriate targets of physical violence—not, of course, all of the morally innocent. The morality of the battlefield distinguishes not between the innocent and the guilty, but between the combatant and the noncombatant. Combatants, however, cannot be equated with the morally guilty, since opposing combatants are likely to have equally valid claims to moral innocence. Neither has wronged the other, or anyone else. But each is licensed, legally and morally, to try to injure or kill the other. Each possesses this license because each acts in self-defense vis-à-vis the other. The reciprocal imposition of risk creates the space that allows injury to the morally innocent. Yet, every military force also has a compelling ethical obligation to minimize the risk of injury to its own forces. Each strives to create an asymmetrical situation in which the enemy suffers the risk of injury while its own forces remain safe. The paradox of riskless warfare arises when the pursuit of asymmetry undermines reciprocity. Without reciprocal imposition of risk, what is the moral basis for injuring the morally innocent?
Date of Authorship for this Version
Kahn, Paul W., "The Paradox of Riskless Warfare" (2002). Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 326.