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Second edition
Author: A. J. Coates

Though the just war tradition has an ancient pedigree, like any tradition of thought, it is subject to historical highs and lows. Drawing on examples from the history of warfare from the Crusades to the present day, this book explores the limits and possibilities of the moral regulation of war. It focuses on the tensions which exist between war and morality. The moral ambiguity and mixed record of that tradition is acknowledged and the dangers which an exaggerated view of the justice or moral worth of war poses are underlined. The adoption of a 'dispositional' view of ethical life, in which moral character and moral culture play a decisive part, widens and transforms the ethics of war. Realism resists the application of morality to war. Pacifism harms and benefits the just war tradition in about equal measure. In opposition to the amoral and wholly pragmatic approach of the 'pure' realist, the just war theorist insists on the moral determination of war where that is possible, and on the moral renunciation of war where it is not. Moral realism is what the just war tradition purports to be about. Legitimate authority has become entirely subordinated to the concept of state sovereignty. If moderate forms of consequentialism threaten the principle of noncombatant immunity, more extreme or purer forms clearly undermine it. The strategic and the ethical problems of counterterrorism are compounded by the emergence of a new and more extreme form of terrorism.

A. J. Coates

Most ethical studies of terrorism centre on the ius in bello issue of noncombatant immunity. David Rodin favours a rule-based approach in which the moral meaning or identity of terrorism is determined through the application of the rule that upholds noncombatant immunity. His definition of terrorism centres on that rule and is the main reason why he applies the definition to states as well as non-states since 'universality is the basic principle of the interpretation of moral rules'. The moral casuistry favoured by traditional just war thought seems better placed to achieve a specific moral understanding of terrorism than more abstract methods. Moral casuistry stems from an appreciation of the complexity of moral conduct, a complexity which rules out any straightforward application of moral principles.

in The ethics of war
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Some moral aspects and variables
A. J. Coates

Terrorism can struggle to comply with the requirements of ius ad bellum whatever its form, but the moral presumption of more extreme forms of terrorism is so resoundingly in favour of war that the restraints of ius ad bellum are comprehensively undermined. Many concepts of terrorism attribute to the terrorist a rational-instrumental logic and pragmatic disposition, in accordance with which the resort to terror is of a utilitarian kind. The case for a 'generic' definition of terrorism is mostly 'tactical', making much of the fact that both states and non-state actors regularly violate the principle of non-combatant immunity. Like any moral phenomenon, terrorism is a complex and variable whole in which weakness in one area of ethical concern can be combined with strength in another. A focus on degrees of justice and injustice enables us to distinguish between different forms of terrorism with different moral characteristics.

in The ethics of war
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A. J. Coates

The tension between strategic and moral imperatives accompanies all counterterrorism. This chapter explores that tension by examining some prominent features of the contemporary fight against terrorism which raise moral concern. In each case, there are two poles of the argument, the moral and the strategic. The strategic and the ethical problems of counterterrorism are compounded by the emergence of a new and more extreme form of terrorism. To apply the policing or law enforcement model of counterterrorism is to uphold the rule of law and the criminal nature of acts of terrorism. The ethical problems of counterterrorism are varied and substantial, reflecting the special challenge that terrorism poses. The tension between strategy and ethics is often to the fore as terrorists put the moral discipline of counterterrorists to the test. Ethical conduct is a matter of preserving the moral integrity and the moral capital of the society in question.

in The ethics of war
Just war, past and present
A. J. Coates

Though the specific criticisms vary in focus and emphasis, all address the shortcomings of what is referred to as 'traditional' or 'classical' just war theory. At the heart of David Rodin's assessment of just war thinking is a powerful critique of the 'domestic analogy', that is, of the justificatory role of the idea of self-defence in ethical reasoning about war. In keeping with a form of analytic ethics, the main focus of revisionist just war thought is on conceptual analysis with the aim of producing a set of rules or principles which can then be applied to war. The adoption of a 'dispositional' view of ethical life, in which moral character and moral culture play a decisive part, widens and transforms the ethics of war. Past thinkers were much more economical in their deployment of rules than contemporary just war analysts.

in The ethics of war
A. J. Coates

The ethics of war is not after all exhausted by any single tradition. In the theoretical sphere the tradition has been by far the most prolific in the development of an apparatus of specific moral principles and concepts by means of which the experience of war can be articulated and subjected to systematic moral investigation. The influence of the tradition has not been confined to the realm of moral theorizing. Just war principles and concepts have helped to shape international law in a decisive way. The just war tradition is rooted in a sense of human moral fallibility and the conviction that any moral enterprise, especially one as unpromising as war, is always to a greater or a lesser extent flawed. Its initial moral presumption against war stems from the recognition that at best war is an extremely blunt and imperfect instrument of justice.

in The ethics of war
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A. J. Coates

Realism resists the application of morality to war. Such resistance is typically part of a more general moral scepticism that is applied not just to the extreme circumstance of war but to international relations in general. In its purer forms, realism rejects the traditional subjection of politics to ethics and affirms, in particular, the radical autonomy of international politics. Utopianism has inflated expectations about the world of international politics. Without the antithetical notion of 'utopianism' realism would be largely unintelligible. Realism is a reaction against the perceived and powerful tendency to apply, or to seek to apply, moral norms and prescriptions to the international domain with scant regard for the innumerable constraints that the realities and complexities of power impose. The realist understanding of war and international relations challenges the ethics of war in many respects. Realism of the amoral kind systematically suppresses the moral context of politics and war.

in The ethics of war
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A. J. Coates

The common understanding of militarism as 'the application to international relations of fascist assumptions' needs to be resisted. The militarist nature of fascism is indisputable; but militarism, more broadly but still coherently defined, can be seen to embrace much more than the fascist tradition. Militarism is rife in the modern world, where its pervasive and multiform presence constantly threatens the moral regulation of war. Ruthlessness is reinforced by the ethic of hardness that is common to all forms of militarism and that supplants the ethic of compassion that is so essential to the moral conduct of war. Across the religious and ideological divide the ethical power of war, its generation of a new man and a new order, are constantly celebrated. In militarist thinking 'violence' is an elastic concept, and its elasticity lowers the threshold of counterviolence and enlarges the group against which it can be directed.

in The ethics of war
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A. J. Coates

Pacifism harms and benefits the just war tradition in about equal measure. Its blanket condemnation of all things military disrupts the kind of moral regulation of war to which just war theorists aspire: war is considered to be beyond the reach of morality. At the same time it assists the just war project by its general insistence on the subordination of war to peace and by its creative and constructive understanding of peace and peacemaking. For Christian pacifists, the renunciation of all forms of violence is seen at the same time as the affirmation of the ethic of love that is at the heart of the Christian religion. Pacifism in its pure or 'absolute' form shares with realism a deep moral scepticism about war. Both deny that war can ever be subject to moral limitation.

in The ethics of war
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A. J. Coates

In opposition to the amoral and wholly pragmatic approach of the 'pure' realist, the just war theorist insists on the moral determination of war where that is possible, and on the moral renunciation of war where it is not. In opposition to the militarist, the just war theorist consistently affirms the moral primacy of peace over war, resisting the cult of violence and the drift into total war to which militarism in both its open and covert forms is prone. Moral realism is what the just war tradition purports to be about. The realist has few universalist aspirations, and an exaggerated emphasis on state sovereignty with its concomitant principle of non-intervention impedes the kind of moral ordering of international relations favoured by the just war theorist. In its pure, or absolute, form pacifism rejects the fundamental premiss of all just war reasoning.

in The ethics of war