Abstract only
Second edition

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.

Abstract only

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
Abstract only

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

The criterion of legitimate authority has become the most neglected of all the criteria that have been traditionally employed in the moral assessment of war. Legitimate authority has become entirely subordinated to the concept of state sovereignty. The ease with which the state's right to war is recognized may account for the diminishing influence of the concept of legitimate authority and its neglect in cases of resort to violence by non-state or sub-state agencies. Since legitimacy is precisely what is being contested in the war of revolution, the just war criterion of legitimate authority applies in a special way and with a particular urgency to this form of warfare. The criterion of legitimate authority can be so conservatively interpreted as to rule out all non-state or unofficial resort to physical force.

in The ethics of war

In the just war tradition the specific requirements of just conduct are those of proportionality and noncombatant immunity. The just war tradition expects moral analysis to be informed by an empathic awareness of military and political realities. Economy or restraint is the basic imperative, and combatants are required to employ only as much force as is necessary to achieve legitimate military objectives and as is proportionate to the importance of those targets. Readily and understandably, the destruction of the General Belgrano came to be regarded as a military necessity, and its preservation as a dereliction of duty. It was not just the specific threat posed by the General Belgrano that gave cause for concern, but the overall threat posed to the task force by the deployment of Argentine warships and their aircraft around the Falklands.

in The ethics of war

The moral reasoning associated with the principle of civilian or, more exactly, noncombatant immunity is one of the most strongly contested areas of just war theory. Given the moral weight attached to noncombatant immunity by just war theory, the military objective being sought would need to be of very considerable importance in order to establish even a prima facie case for proceeding with the action. If moderate forms of consequentialism threaten the principle of noncombatant immunity, more extreme or purer forms clearly undermine it. The principle of noncombatant immunity is not some abstract and a priori moral norm devised by moral theorists in the teeth of moral experience. By keeping firmly in view those aspects of moral practice that a consequentialist view deliberately ignores the principle of double effect lends essential support to the fundamental moral norm of noncombatant immunity.

in The ethics of war
Abstract only

The just war tradition upholds the primacy of peace over war. In just war theory the 'utopian' concept of peace is the ever-receding moral horizon that acts as a moral pull on the efforts of peacemakers. To ignore the criminal conduct of war is to undermine the moral culture of war, the preservation of which is one of the primary objectives of just war theory. Peacemaking in just war terms should be an expression of the communal and moral bond that unites adversaries even in the midst of war. From a just war perspective the criticism has some validity, but it rests on an oversimplification of the peacemaking process, and neglects the part that realism itself played in its breakdown. The idea of the progressive and qualitative improvement or transformation of the international order to which the just war approach is wedded is out of line with realism.

in The ethics of war

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
Abstract only
Some moral aspects and variables

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
Just war, past and present

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