Self-Defense, Punishing Unjust Combatants and Justice in War

Criminal Law and Philosophy 4 (3):297-319 (2010)
Some contemporary Just War theorists, like Jeff McMahan, have recently built upon an individual right of self-defense to articulate moral rules of war that are at odds with commonly accepted views. For instance, they argue that in principle combatants who fight on the unjust side ought to be liable to punishment on that basis alone. Also, they reject the conclusion that combatants fighting on both sides are morally equal. In this paper, I argue that these theorists overextend their self-defense analysis when it comes to the punishment of unjust combatants, and I show how in an important sense just and unjust combatants are morally equal. I contend that the individualistic and quid pro quo perspective of the self-defense analysis fails to consider properly how the international community, morally speaking, ought to treat combatants, and I set forth four elements of justice applicable to war, which, together, support the conclusion that in principle the international community should not take on the activity of punishing combatants solely for fighting on the unjust side.
Keywords McMahan  Just War  Combatants  The moral equality of soldiers  Self-defense  Punishment  Moral luck
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DOI 10.1007/s11572-010-9102-9
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