Walzer argues that “He was acting as a moral man ought to act; his is not an example of fighting heroically, above and beyond the call of duty, but simply of fighting well. It is what we expect of soldiers. “12 But is this the case? What risks do we have a right to ask soldiers to take upon themselves in order to protect civilians? We can begin to answer this question by looking at two similar examples: bombers operating in occupied France during World War II and in the recent NATO action in Kosovo. In occupied France members of the French resistance operated an air force which bombed German military targets in the country.
However, this necessarily entailed a degree of risk for any civilians in the area. At this time, bombs were nowhere near as accurate as they are today. The members of the Free French Air Force, as they were known, chose to fly and bomb from a lower altitude than they would have usually have done in order to reduce the risk to civilians. However, this increased the risk to themselves by making themselves more vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. 13 In Kosovo, on the other hand, NATO bombers operated at 15’000 feet in order to avoid anti-aircraft fire from the ground.
However, this meant that not only was the accuracy of its bombing reduced, but pilots were unable to obtain visual confirmation that there were no civilians present in target areas. 14 Arguably, this policy directly resulted in the deaths of a number of civilians. One now infamous incident involved the deaths of 70 Kosovan Albanian refugees who were killed on April 14th 1999 when bombers mistakenly targeted a convoy of refugees outside the village of Djakovica, believing it to be a military convoy. 15 Should the air crew have risked their own lives in order to ensure more accurate targeting?
General Michael Short, Commander of Allied Air Forces, Southern Europe, related a conversation with air crew after the incident at Djakovica: ‘They came back to me and said “we need to let the forward air controllers go down to 5’000 feet. We need to let the strikers go down as low as 8’000 feet and in a diving delivery to verify their target, and then right back up again to 15’000 feet. We think that will get it done. We acknowledge that this increases the risk significantly, but none of us want to hit a tractor full of refugees again. We can’t stand that”’16
As a result of this conversation and incidents in which civilians were killed, NATO altered its rules of engagement so that pilots flew from 8’000 feet rather than the original 15’000. This would appear to me to indicate that the aircrew themselves accepted that they should shoulder increased risk rather than transfer that risk to civilians. This seems to me to be a link between the two cases – the soldiers themselves are prepared to accept more risk then is required by international law, and subsequently what is asked by their respective militaries.
Cook argues that force protection (in other words keeping soldiers alive and operative) 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. However, I would argue that the interests of all countries are served by having an international order in which human rights abuses are not tolerated.
Thus, there is no conflict between the military covenant and asking soldiers to risk their lives in cases of humanitarian intervention. Moreover, we are all supposed to be morally equivalent as human beings. Derrida argues that we should have no more moral obligations towards our own family then we do towards strangers. He states that we have a “general and universal responsibility” towards all people equally. We cannot justify giving morally preferential treatment to those who are more familiar to us, as “every other (one) is every (bit) other.
“20 By this, Derrida means that even members of our own family are ‘others’ to us, just as much as complete strangers. If this is the case, how can we justify having different moral standards for protecting civilians of your own or different nationalities? There is a danger that Derrida’s argument could be seen as being nihilistic – if we cannot prioritise helping any one person or group of people then we must help no-one. However, even if we do not accept the basis of Derrida’s argument, I would assert that his conclusion is correct.
All people are morally equivalent, not necessarily because they are all equally ‘other’ to us but because a moral theory should not differentiate between people based on arbitrary characteristics such as their race or nationality. A relevant moral question in all of this is that of what is the more important when it comes to judging the morality of an action – the action itself or the motive behind it. St Augustine claimed that the heart is the sacred seat of virtue – as long as ones motives and intentions are pure, one is a moral person.
21 So in other words it is the intention that defines the morality of an action, not the action itself. Therefore it could be argued that the killing of civilians is not always immoral if the soldiers do not aim for their death. But is it enough for soldiers simply not to aim for the deaths of civilians; or do they have an obligation to minimise the deaths that they believe they may cause? Anscombe argues that if we are answerable for the unintended consequences of our action as well as the intended consequences then morality itself breaks down.
22 However, what about the unintended but foreseen consequences of our actions? Obviously these are two related but different things. Unforeseen consequences are those which cannot be anticipated before an act. Unintended consequences however are those consequences which are not intentional, but which may have been foreseeable. As stated above, Walzer argues that with respect to protection of civilians in a situation in which they may be endangered it is not enough for soldier’s merely not to intend to kill or injure civilians. Additionally, they must also make allowances for the foreseeable consequences of their actions.