The Ethical War Blog

Expert discussion of the ethics of war, for all.

Peacekeeping and the Possibility of a Revisionist Law of War

By Nicholas Serafin

Just War Theorists have traditionally argued that combatants are moral equals, each permitted to kill their opponent regardless of the justice of their wars.  Recently, this position has been challenged by ‘revisionist’ just war theorists, who hold that only combatants who fight in justified wars are permitted to kill. This view is often thought to be in deep tension with the law of war, and revisionist theorists are divided on the issue of what the legal implications of their view should be. However, in at least one area – the application of the law of war to United Nations Chapter VI peacekeeping operations – international law takes on a revisionist cast.

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Intervention and Revolution

By Fernando Tesón

It is widely held that violent revolution can be justified to end tyranny. It is equally widely held that foreign intervention is not justified to end tyranny. Intervention is justified, if at all, in a much narrower range of cases – perhaps to halt massacre or genocide, but not to end ‘ordinary’ oppression. On this view, state oppression may be sufficient to furnish internal revolutionaries with a just cause for violence, but simultaneously insufficient to generate a just cause for outside parties to do the same. Can this difference be justified?

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Subtle Casualties: Conflict and Intangible Cultural Heritage

By Robert Seddon

On one page of the ICCROM document Protecting Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict, just below an image of a stone Buddha with the face blasted off, is a photograph of an apparently intact building, with the caption: ‘Intangible heritage affected during the military operations of 2007-2011 [against the Taliban insurgency]: people stopped coming to the Grand Shrine in Saidu Sharif, fearing for their security.’ Examples like this reveal a distinct and under-appreciated way in which war can threaten cultural heritage: the disruption of ways of life, rather than simple material damage.

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Are Soldiers Morally Exploited?

By Michael Robillard and Bradley J. Strawser

The idea of soldiers as an exploited group is hardly anything new. Throughout much of human history, wars serving the interests of the ‘haves’ have largely been fought by the ‘have nots,’ with members of the latter group finding themselves opting into military service from a place of pronounced vulnerability and minimal alternatives. As Thomas Hardy puts it, in his poem ‘The Man He Killed’,

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Patriarchal War

By Graham Parsons

They are not what people expect. The young women who have left Western European countries to join ISIS as wives of its foot soldiers are typically bright, sociable, ambitious, connoisseurs of cosmopolitan culture from stable homes. These women certainly had other doors open to them but still chose, and in many cases took great risk to achieve, membership in ISIS as wives. The New York Times printed a photo of three teenage friends who ran away from home in East London to join ISIS and be married to their fighters as they pass through security at Heathrow airport. They look like normal girls who might shop at Urban Outfitters.

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Published 8th March 2016

Graham Parsons

Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Philosophy at the United States Military Academy, West Point. His work is focused on political theory and military ethics. He has recently become extremely interested in the role of gender in the military and war.

Escape of the Gaak: New technologies and the ethics of war

By Heather M. Roff

In 2002, the Magna Science Centre in South Yorkshire witnessed a surprising event: a two foot tall robot, Gaak, escaped from a gladiatorial experiment with learning robots.  The experiment, part of the “Living Robots” project, simulated a predator and pray scenario where some robots searched for food (prey) and others hunted for them (predators).  Gaak, a predator, was left unattended for fifteen minutes and, in that time, managed to find and navigate along a barrier, find a gap, move through it and continue across a car park to the M1 motorway. Gaak was found rather quickly when a motorist almost collided with it.  This story of robot liberation helps us to understand a simple fact about learning machines: they are unpredictable.   This should guide us when thinking through the role of artificial intelligence and robotics in contemporary warfare, especially if we think there are morally right and wrong ways of using lethal force.

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Published 27th February 2016

Heather M. Roff

Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, Research Scientist at the Global Security Initiative at Arizona State University and Fellow in the Cybersecurity Initiative at the New America Foundation. She is presently writing a monograph on the legal, moral and political issues associated with autonomous weapons systems.

Just and Unjust Wars in Syria: the Questionable Ethics of Bombing ISIS

By Christopher J. Finlay

Amongst those debating the justification for last December’s decision by the British government to join in the military intervention in Syria, some ask whether the UK is now engaged alongside its allies in a ‘Just War’. James Pattison, for instance, has argued that if we consider it properly, working through the key principles of what just war theorists call the ‘jus ad bellum’ (the justice of wars), it is not. The bombing of ISIS targets in Syria by the air forces of France, the USA, and now Britain, must be judged according to whether it pursues a ‘Just Cause,’ is motivated by the ‘Right Intention,’ and has a ‘Reasonable Prospect of Success.’ It does not, Pattison thinks, because war can be initiated only as a means of defence against the threat of international aggression or as part of a humanitarian intervention seeking to defend innocent people from those threatening violent harm within their own states. The threat of violence to individuals in Europe, Pattison suggests, is more immediately posed by ISIS sympathizers already living there than by the forces occupying cities across Iraq and Syria. And the plight of the many innocent people living under ISIS rule or fleeing it as refugees will only worsen as the air strikes intensify.

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Published 16th February 2016

Christopher Finlay

Reader in Political Theory at the University of Birmingham. His most recent book, Terrorism and the Right to Resist: a Theory of Just Revolutionary War, was published by Cambridge University in 2015.

Is This The End of Japanese Pacifism?

By Ned Dobos

Article 9: (i) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (ii) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. Continue Reading ›

Is There an Islamic State?

By Adam Hosein

Earlier this year, Barrack Obama began using the term ‘violent extremists’ in reference to the United States’ central enemies in Iraq and Syria, avoiding all use of the term ‘Islamic extremists’. More recently, David Cameron criticized the BBC for using the term ‘Islamic State’, rather than referring to the group as ‘so-called Islamic State’, ‘ISIL’ or, still better in his opinion, ‘Daesh’. In sum, both are insistent that their enemy is not Islamic (and nor does it form, Cameron added, a state). The French government has already begun using only the term ‘Daesh’ with Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister, adding that he personally would only use the term ‘Daesh cut-throats’.

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