payers might be morally liable, for example, to the effects of certainkinds of economic sanction, they would not be appropriate targets formilitary force. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that, in contrastto unjust combatants, even morally responsible noncombatants normallymake only a very slight causal contribution to their country’s unjust war,so that attacking them would do little to diminish the threat their coun-try poses or to advance the just cause.A second objection is that, just as it is normally impossible to haveaccurate information about an unjust combatant’s responsibility for thethreat he poses, so it is normally impossible to have detailed informationabout whether and to what extent a particular noncombatant is re-sponsible for her country’s unjust war. Again, this is true. But it doesnot show that noncombatants cannot be liable, but only that just com-batants can seldom know which ones are responsible or to what extentthey are responsible. And this drastically restricts the practical signifi-cance of the responsibility criterion’s implication that some noncom-batants may be legitimate targets in war. For, while a few noncombatantsmay bear a high degree of responsibility for their country’s unjust war,and many may be responsible to a much weaker degree, there are alsomany others who are not responsible at all. Because one cannot normallydistinguish among the highly responsible, the minimally responsible,and those who are not responsible at all, just combatants should ingeneral err on the side of caution by acting on the presumption thatnoncombatants are innocent, that is, devoid of responsibility for theircountry’s unjust war (just as just combatants must act on the presump-tion that unjust combatants are responsible for the threat they pose).And even if, on some occasions, just combatants were to have sufficientinformation to be able to distinguish between responsible and nonres-ponsible noncombatants, the responsible ones would normally be in-termingled among the nonresponsible, making it impossible to directforce, or even economic sanctions, against the responsible ones only.And this is a further reason why military action can very rarely if everbe proportionate against civilian targets. In this respect, attacks on ci-vilian populations are again importantly different from attacks againstgroups of unjust combatants, for all of the latter are (or may reasonablybe presumed to be) to some degree liable to defensive force.I have thus far tried to show that the responsibility criterion is infact highly restrictive in its implications for the permissibility of attackingnoncombatants in war. But it does imply that it can be permissible, onoccasion, to attack and even to kill noncombatants—and not just, asnonabsolutist versions of the traditional requirement of discriminationconcede, because the prohibition against intentionally attacking non-combatants may in extreme circumstances be overridden, but also be-cause noncombatants are in some cases morally liable to force or vio-
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Test, Laws of war, jus ad bellum, Michael Walzer, Jeff McMahan