Nonlethal Weapons, Noncombatant Immunity and the Principle of Participatory Liability

Michael Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In defiance of international law, nonlethal weapons inflict
direct harm upon noncombatants. To permit their use, this
paper considers three competing arguments. First, nonlethal
weapons inflict no harm; second, nonlethal weapons cause harm
but do not violate the principle of noncombatant immunity; and
third, some civilians, namely those who providing war sustaining
aid, are liable to nonlethal harm under the principle of
participatory liability. The first claim has no merit. Nonlethal
weapons inflict pain and suffering, albeit transitory.
Combatants, however, are not always protected from all forms
of direct harm. When subjected to economic sanctions, for
example, noncombatants may suffer severe hardship. By
analogy, noncombatants may suffer limited harm from nonlethal
weapons when intended to prevent greater harms that come
from conventional military attacks. Finally, not all
noncombatants deserve immunity at all. Those providing war
sustaining aid are liable to disabling but nonlethal force.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-216
JournalCase Western Reserve Journal of International Law
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015


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