The Ethical War Blog

Expert discussion of the ethics of war, for all.

Uncivil Disobedience in Hong Kong

By Avia Pasternak

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The protests that have stalled normal life in Hong Kong for the past eleven weeks started as a peaceful affair. Millions of Hong-Kongers marched in the streets, to protest against their government’s plan to allow extraditions from Hong Kong to Mainland China. Many Hong-Kongers view this change as a further encroachment upon the territory’s relative legal autonomy, and as a further curtailment of the civil liberties of pro-democracy activists. In response to the wave of protests, the Hong Kong Government temporarily suspended the extradition bill, but it also used a heavy hand against the marchers. The government’s refusal to withdraw the bill entirely, or to open an inquiry into police brutality, angered many protestors and sparked their turn to less civil, and more violent, tactics. In recent weeks protestors have blocked roads and train stations. They have occupied the Legislative Council chambers and defaced Chinese emblems. They have blocked air traffic in the busy Hong Kong Airport, clashing with frustrated passengers, and a police officer and a Mainland Chinese reporter were attacked. In the streets, they confronted riot police, throwing bricks and lighting fires.

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Propaganda Interventions

By Jeffrey Howard

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According to the recently released report by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, Russian nationals set up hundreds of social media accounts on Facebook and other sites during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. These were often created with fake identities and used to push divisive content, aimed at fomenting hatred and galvanizing support for Donald Trump. Here are just a few examples, documented by The New York Times:

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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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