The Ethical War Blog

Expert discussion of the ethics of war, for all. Edited by Romy Eskens.

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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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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Hamas, Gaza, and the Terrorist’s Code of Ethics

By Yitzhak Benbaji and Alexander Yakobsen

Let’s set aside the question of whether Hamas’ decision to fight Israel this summer was legitimate, and ask a separate question: Did Hamas have the option of using legitimate combat methods?

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Should we send weapons or troops? The ethics of supplying arms vs. military intervention

By James Pattison

Western states are less likely to wage major wars in the future. This is for (at least) four reasons. First, despite several ongoing conflicts, the world is generally becoming more peaceful. There are fewer mass atrocities and conflicts to which to wage war in response. Second, the US and UK’s misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have severely diminished any public appetite for large-scale war or humanitarian intervention. The significant public opposition to the mooted intervention in Syria indicates that any Western leader is likely to have to go against public opinion.

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Cultural Property Under the Law of Armed Conflict

By Adil Ahmad Haque

The atrocities committed by Daesh (the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”) against the people of Iraq and Syria extend beyond murder, mutilation, and enslavement to the destruction of cultural property. It should surprise no one that such deliberate destruction of cultural property is prohibited by international law.

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Published 1st June 2015

Adil Haque

Professor of Law and Judge Jon O. Newman Scholar at Rutgers Law School. He is currently writing a book for OUP on law and morality in armed conflict.

In Defense of Objects

By Jonathan Peterson

In March 2015 the Islamic State reportedly looted and bulldozed the ruins of the ancient cities of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq. These attacks on ancient cultural sites appear to be part of an emerging pattern of plunder and destruction which includes the destruction of a mosque built on the site of the supposed tomb of the prophet, Jonah in Mosul in July 2014 and the smashing of ancient Assyrian statues in the museum in Mosul in February. With the fall of Palmyra to the Islamic State in Syria on May 21, 2015 further plunder and destruction of important cultural sites and objects may well be expected.

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