Benefits, and Riskless Warfare –
How (Not) To Distribute Risks Between Interveners and Civilians
Humanitarian interventions over the last couple of decades have resulted in massive numbers of civilian casualties. This raises the question as to how harms and risks ought to be distributed between intervening combatants and civilians of the target party. This paper examines, and refutes, one prominent response to this question, according to which intervening combatants are permitted to shift harms to civilians who stand to benefit from the intervention, and those civilians have no claim against suffering concomitant harms of their rescue, so long as they would still derive a net benefit from the intervention (‘Beneficiary Principle’). This paper raises three challenges to this claim, which, I argue, demonstrate that the Beneficiary Principle fails to persuasively establish that the target party’s noncombatants’ beneficiary status entails diminished immunity against being harmed. First, it conflates benefit and group membership, misleadingly equating individuals and collectives; second, it neglects the difference between two kinds of benefit; and third, it is somewhat discordant with the permissibility of killing innocent attackers in self-defence. I conclude that it is not their beneficiary status on which civilians’ immunity in humanitarian wars depends, and that standing to benefit from a military humanitarian intervention does not provide a sound moral basis for the permissibility of exposing expected beneficiaries of an intervention to greater risks of collateral harm.