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To what extent are individual soldiers morally responsible for the protection of civilians during wartime?

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Introduction

0307165 To what extent are individual soldiers morally responsible for the protection of civilians during wartime? In this essay I will be attempting to answer the question of what moral responsibility soldiers have to protect civilians during wartime. I will concentrate in this essay on the issues surrounding the inadvertent deaths or injury of civilians in the course of military activities, sometimes referred to as 'collateral damage.' I will not discuss issues surrounding incidents such as that which occurred at My Lai in the Vietnam War. The intentional killing of civilians in cases such as this raises very different moral questions which unfortunately I do not have the space to address. I should also note that by 'protection' of civilians I mean the protection of their life in a narrow sense as I believe this to be the most important aspect of a soldier's protection. I will not discuss the obligations of soldiers to ensure that civilian infrastructure remains in place or that civilians are not psychologically harmed. I should further clarify that by 'soldiers' I am referring to all members of the armed forces including air force personnel. In this essay I will argue that soldiers should have more moral responsibility for the protection of civilians than is their strictly legal obligation. I will begin by arguing that soldiers do bear some form of responsibility for protecting civilians in wartime. This takes the form both of a legal obligation under international law and a separate moral obligation. I will illustrate the difference between these two obligations by using the principle of 'double effect' and the example of a British solider from World War Two. I will then examine the question of whether soldiers should take additional risks upon themselves in order to protect civilians. I will argue that this is the case, illustrating my argument with examples from the bombing of occupied France by the Free French air force and the NATO bombing of Kosovo. ...read more.

Middle

will often outweigh other considerations such as civilian safety when military commanders decide upon rules of engagement for a particular incident or war.17 However, in the two cases above at least, individual soldiers appear willing to take more moral responsibility than what is legally required of them. A relevant issue here, and a major difference between the two cases, is that of whether soldiers have the same obligations towards foreign civilians as they do towards their own civilians. When soldiers sign up they sign a covenant between themselves and their nation. They agree to protect and serve their nation in exchange for being "sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service." 18 Is it therefore any more problematic to ask soldiers to put themselves at greater risk to protect foreign civilians, not in direct protection or defence of their home nation? Cook argues that soldiers sign up to protect their own country rather than other peoples and that in cases such as humanitarian intervention force protection is a higher priority than normal.19 Legal guidelines for the protection of civilians do not make any such distinction between national and non-nationals. However, as discussed above, legal and moral obligations do not always coincide. I would argue against Cook's view that a soldier involved in humanitarian intervention in another country is not directly serving the interests of his home state. I would argue that the prevention of severe human rights abuses such as genocide or other war crimes is of benefit to all nations, not just the one being protected at that particular time. Thus, I would say that in today's 'globalised' world, the conception of the 'national interest' is far more broadly defined than it ever has been. That is not to say that states only intervene in cases of human rights abuses when their own interests are at stake. This may be the case, but it is irrelevant to my current question. ...read more.

Conclusion

I then looked at the question of whether soldiers should take additional risks upon themselves in order to protect civilians as a matter of course. I argued that this should be the case, using the examples of the NATO bombing of Kosovo and the Free French Air Force bombing of occupied France during World War II. The Free French air force chose to bomb from a lower altitude than they usually would have in order to reduce the risk to civilians, even though this placed them under more danger. In Kosovo, however NATO bombers flew from a higher height than usual in order to protect themselves from anti-aircraft fire. However, in this case, this was changed after a number of incidents in which pilots were unable to visually verify targets and unintentionally killed civilians. In both cases, the soldiers argued that they should take more risk themselves rather than transfer that risk onto civilians. These two cases brought up the issue of whether soldiers should have the same obligations towards foreign civilians as towards their own. I argued that they should, based on the fact that morality cannot distinguish between people based on arbitrary characteristics such as nationality. I then argued that it is not sufficient for a solider merely not to intend to kill civilians, that they must also make some effort to address the unintended but foreseeable consequences of their actions. Thus, they should ensure that they always acknowledge the risk to civilians, even if it is not their intent, and transfer risk onto themselves rather than the civilian population. I then discussed what level of risk transfer would be appropriate in such a situation. I concluded that soldiers should take risk upon themselves up until the point where it would endanger the military operation itself. Finally, I argued against the view the certain ends or the conduct of enemy belligerents justified less care being taken over the protection of civilians. ...read more.

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