Collateral Damage and the Principle of Due Care

Journal of Military Ethics 13 (1):94-105 (2014)
Abstract
This article focuses on the ethical implications of so-called ‘collateral damage’. It develops a moral typology of collateral harm to innocents, which occurs as a side effect of military or quasi-military action. Distinguishing between accidental and incidental collateral damage, it introduces four categories of such damage: negligent, oblivious, knowing and reckless collateral damage. Objecting mainstream versions of the doctrine of double effect, the article argues that in order for any collateral damage to be morally permissible, violent agents must comply with high standards of care. In order for incidental harm to be permissible, an agent must take pains to avoid such harm even at higher cost to him- or herself. It is argued that accidentally but negligently caused collateral damage may be just as difficult to excuse as incidental harm. Only if high precautionary standards of care are met, can unintended harm to innocents – incidental or accidental – be permissible. In practice, such a strong commitment to avoiding harm to civilians may well lead us to question more generally and rethink more radically how violent conflicts ought to be fought, how military violence ought to be used and whether there are better ways of achieving those aims that we think are legitimate than those we are currently using.
Keywords Just War Theory  Doctrine of Double Effect  Collateral Damage  Tony Coady  Principle of Due Care  Noncombatant Immunity
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