The Epidemiologic Challenge to the Conduct of Just War: Confronting Indirect Civilian Casualties of War

Most civilian casualties in war are not the result of direct exposure to bombs and bullets; they are due to the destruction of the essentials of daily living, including food, water, shelter, and health care. These “indirect” effects are too often invisible and not adequately assessed nor addressed by just war principles or global humanitarian response. This essay suggests that while the neglect of indirect effects has been longstanding, recent technical advances make such neglect increasingly unacceptable: 1) our ability to measure indirect effects has improved dramatically and 2) our ability to prevent or mitigate the indirect human toll of war has made unprecedented progress. Together, these advances underscore the importance of addressing more fully the challenge of indirect effects both in the application of just war principles as well as their tragic human cost in areas of conflict around the world.