Justifying violence

Communicative ethics and the use of force in Kosovo

Naomi Head
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When is the use of force for humanitarian purposes legitimate? The book examines this question through one of the most controversial examples of humanitarian intervention in the post-Cold War period: the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo. In the face of contemporary problems of legitimacy and justification, the book offers a deep engagement with developments at the intersection of Habermasian communicative ethics and International Relations. The result is a set of rigorous normative guidelines – the ‘communicative imperatives’ – intended for application in analyses of the process and legitimacy of international deliberations around the use of force. The book provides an innovative contribution to the theory of communicative ethics through which actors are able to critique and evaluate decisions to use force. The communicative ethics framework contributes a critical communicative dimension to the question of legitimacy that extends beyond the moral and legal approaches so often applied to the intervention in Kosovo. The application of the communicative imperatives reveals forms of communicative distortion which serves to contest conventional accounts of the legitimacy of the use of force in Kosovo.

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‘Naomi Head has produced an original and compelling argument that brings practice back to the Critical Theory of Habermas, rebutting claims that it has little to say about contemporary moral and ethical debates. She pushes constructivism beyond the analysis of norms to an examination of how to better engage in communicative ethics and nudges debates about good international citizenship or the Responsibility to Protect toward the importance of procedural legitimacy in decisionsmaking about the use of force. Through an examination of NATO's 'legitimate' but 'illegal' intervention in Kosovo, she reveals the processes of exclusion from dialogue, the lack of policy coherence and the missed opportunities for a peaceful settlement. In response to the continuing sceptism about the role of language at the international level, she shows why legitimacy and justification matter. This excellent book should be required reading not only for scholars but policymakers confronted with life and death decisions about the use of force.'
Professor K.M. Fierke
School of International Relations, St. Andrews

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