Round Table Discussion: Proportionality and Noncombatant Immunity

Past Event

08 October 2009, 1:00am

Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict
Department of Politics and International Relations, Manor Road, Oxford, OX1 3UQ

  • Professor Jeff McMahan (Rutgers University)
  • Dr. Helen Frowe (University of Sheffield)
  • Dr. Seth Lazar (ELAC)

Proportionality and noncombatant immunity are at the heart of the conventional account of just conduct in war. Noncombatants should never be deliberately targeted; when civilian deaths are unavoidable, they must be proportionate to the military objective attained. Recent revisionists—most prominently, Jeff McMahan—have questioned whether privileging the lives of noncombatants, especially those on the unjustified side in a war, is defensible. Their view that liability to attack is grounded in responsibility for an unjustified threat—whether direct or indirect—renders a commitment to noncombatant immunity untenable, and has equally strong implications for the proportionality principle. In this informal roundtable discussion McMahan presents his recent work on proportionality and noncombatant immunity, with responses by philosophers from both sides of the current debate.