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The Ethics of War and Peace Revisited.

The Ethics of War and Peace Revisited

Edited by Daniel R. Brunstetter and Jean-Vincent Holeindre

Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2019

344 pages


Traditional just war theory (JWT) can be a clumsy tool for analyzing contemporary conflict. Its standard categories of jus ad bellum and jus in bello govern the behavior of states and often draw a bright line between conditions of war and peace, where absent a violation of sovereignty or territory, military force is not permitted. Of course, the theory, or at least its application, has evolved. Notable in this evolution is the emphasis on addressing gross human rights violations or humanitarian crises. Scholars have also added the categories of jus ad vim (justice of force short of war), which governs the use of force below the threshold of violating sovereignty and territory, and jus post bellum (justice after war), which governs the termination of conflict.

These additions, while welcome, have proved inadequate. The rise of nonstate actors, hybrid warfare, and the proliferation of weapons of mass disruption and destruction do not so much challenge state sovereignty as much as make it increasingly irrelevant. This is the subject of The Ethics of War and Peace Revisited, edited by Daniel R. Brunstetter and Jean-Vincent Holeindre. This volume addresses what is probably the twenty-first century's biggest security problem: the erosion of sovereignty. The essential premise is conflict arises where sovereignty is either contested or fragmented. Sovereignty is contested when brutal acts against a population undermine the absolute nature of sovereignty as a state's right. It is fragmented when states cannot control all the territory and permit the rise of terrorist groups or other nonstate actors who project force beyond those borders. In such an environment, permission to conduct humanitarian interventions seems too anemic and the permission to conduct relentless and ongoing drone strikes against terrorists seems to be too much. What is needed is another way.

This book, however, does not offer a revision of the theory. Rather, it seeks to identify and then analyze the challenges this erosion of sovereignty creates and in doing so introduce the reader to the broader discussion regarding contemporary security challenges--for example, the fact some states cannot or should not control all their territory can place incentives, if not obligations, on other states to intervene. But as the intervention in Libya clearly demonstrated, even interventions motivated by the best of intentions can lead to terrible outcomes. Since it is hard to know in advance, should they be avoided?

To answer these and other questions, the book takes on four broad themes: when to intervene, who bears the risks, how do we judge, and finally, what to do when the conflict is over. Within these themes, the book takes on a number of critical debates.

The first of these debates regards humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect. Responsibility to protect is an emerging set of norms that places an obligation on the international community, or at least those who can, to intervene in areas where state failure (intentional or unintentional) creates conditions for massive human rights violations or humanitarian crises. While certainly noble in sentiment, Aidan Hehir in his chapter notes too often such interventions, like the one in Libya, turn out badly, leaving a "humanitarian intervention hangover" that discourages future interventions. The only way to overcome that hangover, he argues, is to establish a suprastate actor who can intervene independent of other states' interests or endorsements.

Thomas Lindemann and Alex Giacomelli, taking up Hehir's concern about self-interested interventions, argue identity plays an arguably more important role in motivating intervention than strategic or economic interests: some states just see themselves as "hero-protectors," though that does not mean they see every victim as worthy or able to be rescued. Nigel Biggar argues perhaps we are over thinking the problem. One can never predict all the consequences associated with interventions, so all that should be required is a just cause and the necessary means to achieve that cause.

The use of drones also figures prominently in this volume. Contributors like Kerstin Fisk and Jennifer Ramos see the increased use of such technology as a function of the precedent set by the US invasion of Iraq, which enabled preventive, open-ended, but limited use of force. As a result, a number of states arc investing in the means to do so, which risks a rise in cross-border attacks by adversary states. In this regard, one of the values of this book is it takes up a range of issues, including this one, from different perspectives. In particular, Jean-Baptiste Jeangene Vilmer examines the drone debate from the French perspective, ultimately arguing to the extent drones are a better alternative to more conventional means in terms of limiting collateral harm, states should consider their use. Shannon French, Victoria Sisk, and Caroline Bass examine the problem in terms of its corrosive effect on the "warrior's code," arguing that as drones distance combatants from the experience of war, it also risks undermining their commitment to its rules.

Brunstetter helpfully observes part of the problem is that the erosion of sovereignty creates space where the rules we have do not seem to fit: the rules of war seem to permit too much; however, the rules of law enforcement seem to permit too little. Thus, what is needed is not a revision of JWT, but an alternative. In this regard he sees jus ad vim not as a component of JWT but an alternative that has its own corresponding ethics of not only when force is permitted (Jus ad vim), but what force is permitted (Jus in vi) and what counts as a just conclusion of the conflict (jus post vim). In this vein, Frederic Ramel suggests the problem is not in the rules, but in how we think about security in the first place. Rather than the state-centric approach described by JWT and jus ad vim, he argues for a human-centric approach that orients actors away from borders and towards freedom from want and freedom from fear. It those conditions supplanted sovereignty as the things defended, we could make better sense of what counts for when to use force and how.

The book ends on this last point: what obligations do states have when the conflict is over? In this regard, Brian Orend argues while wars may be fought to punish aggression, they should end with the rehabilitation of the aggressor, a burden which falls to the victorious party. Cian O'Driscoll helpfully argues whatever those obligations are, what is missing from JWT is an account of what victory is. What sense does it make to say the United States has jus post bellum obligations in Iraq and Afghanistan if it is not at all clear the war is over? O'Driscoll does not have a firm answer but argues more work needs to be done to understand the relationship between victory and JWT.

By focusing on how the breakdown of sovereignty challenges our traditional norms of war, this volume opens up space not just to better understand the application of JWT, but also to consider alternatives. This point does not mean the book is not without its faults. The discussion on preventive war, for example, which takes place in the context of drone strikes, seems to conflate preventive war with preventive strikes. Traditionally, the former has never been permitted while the latter always has. But even where the book lacks clarity, it still frames the debate in useful ways scholars, students, and practitioners can get beyond the simple application of the "old rules" and get into the discussion of what the "new ones" should be.

Reviewed by Dr. C. Anthony Pfaff, Research Professor for Military Profession and Ethic at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College
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Author:Pfaff, C. Anthony
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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