A Just war according to Just war theory is one that is morally justifiable; it also seeks to protect fundamental human rights. Among the various moral constraints on the conduct of war, the principle of non-combatant immunity is historically one of the most dignified. This principle aims to protect all non-combatants against intentional attacks. Although it is undoubtedly a ruling principle in warfare, the principle has sparked debates due to a lack of agreement on what constitutes its underlying basis. In this essay, I will compare theories by Nagel and Walzer of what purports non-combatant immunity. I will start by defining the principle and explaining each philosopher’s theory for its basis. Some noble points to compare include the base assumptions, restrictions and how the consequence of the restrictions ground the principle of non-combatant immunity.
Non-combatant immunity is a principle that issues the protection of non-combatants against attacks in war. Adhering to this principle requires that belligerents discern between combatants and non-combatants and only target the former, although this can be difficult to implement in practice (Lazar, p.3 ).
To conduct a Just war, discrimination on behalf of the warring parties is necessary because the innocent are not liable to attack. The status of innocent, according to Nagel refers to persons who are “currently harmless,” meaning they do not pose an immediate threat to anyone (Nagel, p.139). Civilians, prisoners of war and medical personnel are included in this in this view. Like Nagel, Walzer defines the innocent as a class or persons who are not direct threats and those who have not forfeited their right to immunity (Lazar, p.2 ).
Nagel derives the principle of non-combatant immunity from an absolutist approach. He builds his theory from the assumption that the restrictions and rules of warfare are not arbitrarily established but have a moral basis (Nagel, p.123). Recognizing the validity and of analyzing the consequences of military strategies, he argues for a qualified absolutist view of the foundation underlying the principle of non-combatant immunity. The absolutist stance is one that claims that no justification can be offered to excuse an act that is not permissible and therefore prohibited . Within that ambit is the act of deliberately killing the innocent (Nagel, p.126). The absolutist argument for non- combatant immunity can be constructed as follows.
1. Intentionally killing innocent people is murder which is prima facie wrong
2. There is an absolute prohibition on murder
3. Non-combatants are innocent
4. There is an absolute prohibition on targeting non-combatants.
The necessity argument
Walzer argues that the basis for non-combatant immunity stems from the assumption that necessity drives war conduct (Lazar, p.1 ). He defines necessity as anything that increase the chances of victory while reducing its...