The Ethical War Blog

Expert discussion of the ethics of war, for all.

Commemorating Nelson Mandela as a Person and as a Symbol

By Anja Berninger

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Few statesmen in recent history have been revered to the same extent as Nelson Mandela. When he died in 2013, international heads of state flocked to Johannesburg to attend the memorial service and US flags were flown on half-mast. Four years before his death the UN had already declared July 18th to be “International Nelson Mandela Day”. Since then, bookshelves have been filled with glowing accounts of his life and numerous streets and schools across the globe have been named after him.

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Building Better States? State Authority, Moral Responsibility, and Reparations

By Jennifer Page

Los Angeles Downtown” by Aydin Palabiyikoglu. Used under: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

In 1981, “Mary M.” was pulled over for drunk driving by on-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer Leigh Schroyer. Schroyer drove Mary M. home, forced his way into her house, and raped her. Mary M. suffered greatly during the attack and in its aftermath, and underwent psychological counseling for trauma.

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The Case for Regular Political Apology

By Allison Don and Per-Erik Milam

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Starting in the 1870s, more than 150,000 indigenous children in Canada were forcibly removed from their families and communities and placed in Indian Residential Schools with the goal of isolating them from their home cultures and assimilating them into the dominant culture. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has labelled the program a “cultural genocide.” Students were subjected to physical and sexual abuse, and at least 3,200 died while attending the schools. In 2008 and 2017 respectively, Prime Ministers Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau apologised to the former students of the Indian Residential Schools on behalf of the Canadian government. The apologies were coupled with other measures aimed at reconciliation, including the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), which established a recovery fund of over $3 billion for former students.

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Rohingya Repatriation and the Problem of Consent

By Mollie Gerver

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Between 1991 and 1992, approximately 250,000 Rohingya refugees fled violence, persecution, and forced labour in Myanmar. They crossed into Bangladesh where they were protected from deportation, but eventually forced into enclosed camps without sufficient food and education. To escape these conditions most returned to Myanmar, their return arranged by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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Bearing Witness: What Are Journalists Doing in Conflict Zones?

by Richard Stupart and Katherine Furman

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“Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering… are those who could do something to alleviate it – say, the surgeons at the military hospital where the photograph was taken – or those who would learn from it. The rest of us are voyeurs, whether or not we mean to be.” Sontag, 2003

What, morally speaking, are journalists doing in conflicts? They aren’t medics or aid workers, and they don’t have anything to distribute to those in desperate need. So, is their role simply to observe suffering? If so, observing isn’t itself morally good, or even morally neutral – think of the voyeur. And yet we have a nagging intuition that Sontag is wrong and the work of journalists covering human rights abuses and conflict is morally important. Can something about practices of observing suffering in fact justify them?

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Is There Anything Wrong with Collective Punishment?

by Holly Lawford-Smith

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In Eltham, London in 1993, five young white men murdered a young black man. The black man’s name was Stephen Lawrence. The white men’s names were Neil Acourt, James Acourt, Gary Dobson, David Norris, and Luke Knight. During the attack, the men shouted racist abuse at Lawrence and his friend Duwayne Brooks, and one assaulted Lawrence with a bat while another stabbed him in the neck with a ten-inch knife. This horrific hate crime resulted in an investigation that has dragged on for 25 years, with two of the men (Dobson and Norris) being found guilty of murder in 2012, after 18 years. As of April this year, the case was still open; Scotland Yard were waiting to see if new leads came forward in light of a BBC documentary.

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The Salisbury Incident and the Threshold for “Unlawful Use of Force” under International Law: between Stigmatization and Escalation

By Eliav Lieblich 

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On 4 March 2018, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were severely injured after being exposed to a nerve agent in the UK city of Salisbury. An officer, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, also fell ill upon exposure to the substance. While only Mr Skripal and his daughter remain hospitalized as of today, dozens of others might have been put at risk by the agent.[1]

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Cyberattacks, Elections, and Casus Belli

By Patrick Taylor Smith

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Robert Mueller has recently indicted 13 people for using information technology to manipulate a US election. Russian intelligence agents have likely attempted to directly intervene by hacking election software, stealing emails from both the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee, and running assets to manipulate social media websites. Such cyberattacks have become almost overwhelmingly ubiquitous, and there is likely more to come. Ransomware attacks are 167 times more common than just a few years ago. Mega thefts of data are commonplace. There is strong evidence that at least one state—Russia—is engaged in a systematic campaign to undermine financial institutions, and hack vital infrastructure in a variety of countries. Many suspect that cyberattacks that cause serious physical damage and even death are not far off as attacks upon targets such as power plants and medical institutions become increasingly common.[1]

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Moral Forests and Just War Trees

By Michael Robillard

“Forest” Joshua Mayer. Used under: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

                ‘For God and County’

                ‘For our nation and its way of life’

                ‘For the man who was fighting to the left and to the right of me’

These have been the justifications given by political leaders and soldiers alike, for time immemorial, as to why wars must be fought or why they themselves chose to fight or stay. And despite our assessment of the overall soundness or appropriateness of such justifications, the brute fact remains that these reasons mobilise nations and keep people at war. Noticeably absent from this list are such justifications as, ‘for reasons of proportionality’, ‘for reasons of legitimate authority’, and ‘for ad bellum and in bello principles’.

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The Moral Responsibility of Child Soldiers and the Case of Dominic Ongwen

By Matthew Talbert and Jessica Wolfendale

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At least 100,000 people under the age of 18 serve in various capacities in armed groups around the world. In the public imagination, and from the perspective of international law, child soldiers are viewed as passive victims of adult agency and as therefore not responsible for their actions. This stereotypical view of child soldiers is widespread both because it captures an important aspect of the truth, and because it is uncomplicated and arouses sympathy: from the perspective of organizations working to end child soldiering, it is a useful image for the public to have. However, here we argue that the stereotype that child soldiers are universally exempt from responsibility is problematic. We contend that the non-responsibility of child soldiers is far from obvious once their capacities for independently motivated and goal-directed agency are taken into account, a view we explore in our forthcoming book, War Crimes: Causes, Excuses, and Blame (Oxford University Press). As we shall see, the case of Dominic Ongwen illustrates some of the problems with the assumption that child soldiers cannot be responsible for their actions.

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