A cordial approach to the duty of rescue. The case of EU States’ moral obligations in the Mediterranean crisis of 2014-2016
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In 2014, the EU States decided not to support Italy’s Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation and neither replace it with an equivalent mission nor take any other effective action to prevent a massive loss of lives in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015. From the perspective of a standard account of the duty of rescue and a conservative notion of humanitarian duties, the EU states did not have a moral obligation to engage in such actions. The reasons for such a lack of obligation would mainly be three: first, the potential rescuers did not physically encounter nor were they in close vicinity of the victims; secondly, the obligation -if anywould have been a collective one, so no individual actor had a specific obligation to search and rescue; thirdly, the cost of the operation was too high. My argument is that, based on Adela Cortina’s notion of cordial reason, which hinges on a compassionate recognition of human dignity, the EU States had a moral obligation to support the Mare Nostrum operation or at least to effectively prevent a more than likely massive loss of lives in the Mediterranean. Cordial reason allows us to respond to the above mentioned three reasons. Firstly, although the potential rescuers did not physically encounter the victims, they had the ability and the skills to save them if they had wanted to do so; secondly, the collective obligation is not primary, but a result of the obligation that any human being owes to another fellow human being; and thirdly, the duty of rescue -understood in the light of cordial reason- is not subject to cost limitations.