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Posted September 12, 2007

Book: The Morality of War: A Reader
Edited by David Kinsella and Craig L. Carr
Lynne Rienner Publishers. Boulder. 2007. Pp. 415

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

Warfare is one of the most paradoxical of all human activities. Even though warfare is almost universally condemned as one of the most horrible of human events, it is also a tragically commonplace feature of human life. It may not be a great exaggeration to say that the story of humankind could plausibly be told in terms of the history of war. If so, it would not be much of a story, for very little that is good comes out of warfare. Few, if any, other human activities can begin to parallel warfare for brutality, cruelty, and the horrible destruction of life and property. Yet, ironically, warfare also elicits much that is noble and honorable in human beings. For it is also true that few, if any other human activities can parallel warfare for displays of courage, character, and heroism from those brave warriors whose lot it is to fight. Despite the apparent paradox, there is good reason for the citizens of many if not most states to honor and praise their warriors, past and present, even while they condemn warfare itself.

An Excerpt from the Book:

If realism as a theory of international relations is a relative newcomer on the intellectual stage, the prudential and self-interested behavior of states is hardly news. Yet rarely has it been stated and advocated with the clarity and power found in the section of Thucydide’s Peloponnesian War, entitled “The Talks at Melos.” Thucydides, a former Athenian commander, chronicled the events of the Athenian war against Sparta in an effort to explain how and why Athens managed to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. The talks at Melos involved the efforts of the Athenian to enlist Melian support for their war effort. If the Melians refused to support the Athenian effort, the Athenians threatened to destroy Melos. The Athenians were vastly more powerful than the Melians and supporting their threat to be credible thought that the Melians had no alternative but to acquiesce to their demands. The Melian response, however, contended (among other things) that Athens had no right to implicate her in the Athenian fight with Sparta. Claims of right, however, carried no weight whatsoever with the Athenians, who saw the issue in decidedly realistic terms. Might is not presumed to make right from the Athenian view, but it does permit the mighty to get what they want — or else. And in the end, this is all that mattered to them. Questions of right were simply beside the point, and when the Melians refused to succumb to Athenian pressure, the Athenians had no qualms in bringing about the destruction of Melos.

What has all this to do with the morality of war? The most straightforward answer to this question is to note that realists are not strong advocates of just war theory. They do not think states will necessarily adhere to the morality of war, and thus they do not think this morality should be used as a guide to a state’s foreign policy unless appearing to do so can advance a state’s power in the international setting. But realism might be overly cynical about the motives of state authorities and about the anarchical character of the international setting. It is in a state’s best interest to get along with others, particularly in an era when the military capacity of the more powerful states enables them to devastate their foes so completely. And getting along is enhanced by endorsing and accepting clear rules that define permissible and impermissible behavior in the relations of states.

The morality of warfare and the development of an international law of war works in this direction, and this is reason for all states of the world to take it seriously. It is perhaps unnecessary to think that the rules and principles constitutive of the morality of war have some objective or immutable truth about them. What matters is that they work to promote and safeguard a peaceful coexistence among the states of the world, and thus to transform an otherwise anarchical environment into a more orderly and domesticated one.

Table of Contents:

Part I Historical and philosophical approaches to the morality of war

2. Realism

3. Pacifism

4. Just war theory

Part II Resort to War (Jus ad bellum)

5. Aggression and self-defense

6. Preemption and prevention

7. Terrorism

8. Intervention

Part III Conduct of War (Jus in bello)

9. Combatant rights

10. Noncombatant rights

11. Blockades and sanctions

12. Technology and war

Part IV War crimes and judgement (jus post bellum)

13. War and crime

14. Judgement and enforcement