Monday, October 29, 2012

Question about a class of futuristic bioweapons

The discrimination condition on jus in bello is that a soldier is required to discriminate between legitimate and illegitimate targets. Soldiers are required to avoid harming civilians and certain other aid workers while targeting enemy combatants.

The Atlantic has a story here about an only-slightly futuristic weapon that can target a specific individual via their genetic profile. The transmission vector is a virus that causes some very minor illness in a large population but is lethal when exposed to the proper bit of DNA.

My question is: Is it legitimate act within war to (1) cause even a minor inconvenience to a population to the extent that it gives a large number of people a minor cold in service of chasing a legitimate target? (2) Is it even legitimate to use civilians as a transmission vector if it doesn't harm them at all, or the harm is incredibly minor? Perhaps civilians are just generally off limits as both targets and as vectors for weapons?

(3) If this does meet the discrimination standard does it violate bans on biological weapons?

(4) Is this perhaps one of those practices that should be banned under the rubric of the perfidious acts? The reasoning there is that there are certain tactics that are beyond the pale because if it were universally practiced it would wreak havoc for both sides and make wars far more bloody. One example is wearing enemy uniforms. If people wear enemy uniforms, the argument goes, they would not be able to trust their fellow soldiers for fear it is the enemy posing as a friend. (Similarly for abusing the flag of surrender.) So if it were considered legitimate to use civilians as transmission vectors for bioweapons, important military people would not be able to interact with others, like civilians, for fear of being such a target. This lack of trust would lead to far more difficult interactions within militaries. So perhaps such weapons should be banned on those grounds.

What think ye?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Interesting data on Drone Strike approval

\. links to an interesting survey: 72% of Xbox 360 gamers approve of drone strikes. (The link is currently inaccessible.) The discussion, as usual, is robust and worth reading.

For those interested in experimental philosophy, this may make for an interesting research topic. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Military Ethics Conference

Beit Morasha of Jerusalem is proud to announce a conference on "ETHICS AND 21st CENTURY MILITARY CONFLICTS" to be held on October 24 at The Roosevelt Hotel, New York, NY (Madison Ave. at 45th St.).

The conference brings together leading professors of political philosophy, ethics and law, as well as military leaders and diplomats to discuss the challenges of defining moral standards and ethical education in asymetric and pre-emptive wars, targeted killings, and humanitarian intervention applicable to contemporary military conflicts.

The academic conference is cosponsored by Beit Morasha and the Friends of the IDF.

The public is invited to attend the conference and the concluding dinner that evening.

To register and requests for more information on the conference and dinner, contact

Allison Spielman at Allison.Spielman[at]

The conference agenda follows.


The Inaugural Conference of Beit Morasha of Jerusalem’s Edward I. Koch Center for Jewish Ethics and Public Policy Sponsored by Beit Morasha of Jerusalem & Friends of the Israel Defense Forces

The Roosevelt Hotel, New York, NY (Madison Ave. at 45th St.)

October 24, 2012


8:30 – 9:30


9:30 -9:45

Opening Remarks: Professor Benjamin Ish Shalom, Beit Morasha of Jerusalem

General Jerry Gershon, FIDF

9:45 – 11:00

The Right of Self-Defense in 21stCentury Military Conflicts

Arthur Applbaum (Harvard University) & Yishai Beer (Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center & IDF)

11:00 – 12:20

Just Warfare in the 21st Century

Michael Walzer (Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, NJ) & Asa Kasher (Tel Aviv University)

12:30 – 13:30 Lunch

13:35 – 14:50: Parallel Sessions

Just Wars and Middle East Conflicts

Gen. Gerry Gershon (FIDF) & Gen. Lord Charles Guthrie (UK)

Ethics under Fire: How Can We Educate for Moral Armies?

Gen. Eli Schermeister (IDF), Col. Glenn Goldman (US Military Academy) & Maj. Henry Soussan (US Military Academy)

14:50 – 15:10 Break

15:10 – 16:30

The Present Political and Military Situation in the Middle East

Natan Sharansky (Israel) & Daniel Kurtzer (Princeton University)

16:30 – 17:30

Targeted Killing and Civilian Casualties: Determining the Moral and Legal Boundaries

Moshe Halbertal (Hebrew University, NYU) & Col. Richard Kemp (UK)

17:30 – 18:30 Reception

18:30 – 20:00 FIDF Program and Dinner