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Harming Civilians and the Associative Duties of Soldiers

Journal of Applied Philosophy

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According to International Humanitarian Law and many writing on just war theory, combatants who foresee that their actions will harm or kill innocent non‐combatants are required to take some steps to reduce these merely foreseen harms. However, because often reducing merely foreseen harms place burdens on combatants – including risk to their lives – this requirement has been criticised for requiring too much of combatants. One reason why this might be the case is that combatants have duties to each other and to their compatriots, such as duties to keep them safe, which are weighty enough to override their duties to foreign non‐combatants. In this article, I argue that arguments against the requirement to limit merely foreseen harms which rely on combatants' associative duties fail to establish that it is permissible for combatants to prioritise their own safety over the reduction of merely foreseen harms. Although the argument based on associative duties might work in individual cases, factors peculiar to the situation of combatants mean that such justifications are not normally available to them.