William Bülow


This paper investigates the circumstances under which it is morally permissible to impose non-negligible risks of serious harm (including lethal harm) on innocent civilians in order not to endanger tangible cultural heritage during armed conflict. Building on a previous account of the value of cultural heritage, it is argued that tangible cultural heritage is valuable because of how it contributes to valuable and meaningful human lives. Taking this account as the point of departure I examine the claim that commanders should be prepared to risk lives of innocent civilians in order to avoid harm to tangible cultural heritage. I argue that imposing high risks of serious harm on innocent civilians without their consent constitutes a wrong that can be justified only in order to avoid a greater evil. It is then argued that damage to cultural heritage sites rarely constitutes the greater evil when weighed against the imposition of non-consensual risks of serious harm on innocent civilians, especially when the risk is substantial. Still, imposing substantial risks might be morally permissible under the condition that they are consensually imposed, even if they are not the lesser evil. However, I argue that even if one has reason to suspect that there are civilians who might consent to at least some significant risks in order to avoid damage to their cultural heritage, it is not clear that commanders should take this into account when deciding what to do. Unless all of those who are at risk consent, the fact that some of those whose lives are at risk consent to the risk of being killed do not make it morally permissible to impose this risk on the group as a whole.