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?

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