Pacifism and Targeted Killing as Force Short of War

In Jai Galliott (ed.), Force Short of War in Modern Conflict (2019)
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Anti-war pacifism eschews modern war as a means of attaining peace. It holds war to be not only evil and supremely harmful, but also, on balance, morally wrong. But what about force short of war? The aim of this paper is to analyse targeted killing, a specific form of force short of war, from an anti-war pacifist perspective, or, more specifically, from two related but distinct pacifist perspectives: conditional and contingent. Conditional pacifism deems war to be unjustified if the condition that innocent persons are killed in war is satisfied. Since this condition is always fulfilled, conditional pacifism implies the impermissibility of modern war. Contingent pacifism concedes that war would be morally acceptable if its harms were sufficiently outweighed by its benefits, but maintains that no (or very few) wars meet this criterion. The empirical reality of war is such that it cannot be justified, because it harms too many innocents in proportion to the harm it prevents. Pacifists’ treatment of targeted killing short of war should thus concentrate on the harm it does to innocents. Conditional pacifists should focus on whether targeted killing kills innocents, while contingent pacifists should focus on whether the harm it does to innocents is disproportionate to its benefits.

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Nicholas Parkin
Peace Experiment


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