Many thanks to Thomas Pogge for his comments on this entry, which werea great benefit throughout. This entry draws on all my work in just war theory, and so I owe a great debt to the many philosophers who have contributed so much to my understanding of these issues, both in their published work and in conversation. Most of the people in the bibliography deserve a mention, but I reserve particular thanks for Henry Shue, Jeff McMahan, and David Rodin, for setting me on this path.
The collective dimensions of warfare could be more fullyexplored. Several philosophers have considered how soldiers “acttogether” when they fight (Zohar 1993; Kutz 2005; Bazargan2013). But few have reflected on whether group agency is present andmorally relevant in war. And yet it is superficially very natural todiscuss wars in these terms, especially in evaluating the war as awhole. When the British parliament debated in late 2015 whether tojoin the war against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, undoubtedly each MP wasthinking also about what she ought to do. But most of themwere asking themselves what the United Kingdom ought todo. This group action might be wholly reducible to the individualactions of which it is composed. But this still raises interestingquestions: in particular, how should I justify my actions, as anindividual who is acting on behalf of the group? Must I appeal only toreasons that apply to me? Or can I act on reasons that apply to thegroup’s other members or to the group as a whole? And can Iassess the permissibility of my actions without assessing the groupaction of which they are part? Despite the prominence of collectivistthinking in war, discussion of war’s group morality is very muchin its infancy.
Of course, one might think that in virtue of their altruisticself-sacrifice, just combatants are actually the leastdeserving of the harms of war (Tadros 2014). But, first, warfare isnot a means for ensuring that people get their just deserts. Moreimportantly, given that their altruism is specifically intended todraw fire away from their compatriot noncombatants, it would beperverse to treat this as a reason to do precisely what they aretrying to prevent.
The consent-based argument for Combatant Equality fails because of itsempirical, not its normative premise. If combatants in fact waivedtheir rights not to be killed by their adversaries, even when fightinga just war, then that would clearly affect their adversaries’reasons for action, reducing the wrongfulness of killing anyone whohad waived that right. The problem is that they have not waived theirrights not to be killed. However, they often do offer a more limitedimplicit waiver of their rights. The purpose of having armed forces,and the intention of many who serve in them, is to protect civiliansfrom the predations of war. This means both countering threats to anddrawing fire away from them. Combatants interpose themselves betweenthe enemy and their civilian compatriots, and fight on theircompatriots’ behalf. If they abide by the laws of war, theyclearly distinguish themselves from the civilian population, wearing auniform and carrying their weapons openly. They implicitly say totheir adversaries: “you ought to put down your weapons. But ifyou are going to fight, then fight us”. Thisconstitutes a limited waiver of their rights against harm. Like a fullwaiver, it alters the reasons confronting theiradversaries—under these circumstances, other things equal it isworse to kill the noncombatants. Of course, in most cases unjustcombatants ought simply to stop fighting. But this conditional waiverof their opponents’ rights means that, if they are not going toput down arms, they do better to target combatants thannoncombatants.
The revisionists’ arguments mentioned above might not groundliability, but do perhaps justify some reason to preferharming combatants. Combatants can better avoid harm thannoncombatants. Combatants surely do have somewhat greaterresponsibilities to bear costs to avert the wrongful actions of theircomrades-in-arms than do noncombatants. And the readiness of mostcombatants to fight—regardless of whether their cause isjust—likely means that even just combatants have somewhatmuddied status relative to noncombatants. They conform to theiropponents’ rights only by accident. They have weaker grounds forcomplaint when they are wrongfully killed than do noncombatants, whomore robustly respect the rights of others (on robustness and respect,see Pettit 2015).
The Unjust War Theory, though clearly superior to the Just War Theory of the past, should be seen as merely an interim measure, made necessary by current political realities, including excessive nationalism; stockpiles of WMDs; and inadequate international political, legislative, judicial, and enforcement structures.
What’s more, even institutionalists need some answer to thesecond question—and so some account of the interactionalmorality of war. Rule-consequentialists need an account of the good(bad) that they are hoping that the ideal laws of war will maximise(minimise) in the long run. This means, for example, deciding whetherto aim to minimise all harm, or only to minimise wrongful harm. Thelatter course is much more plausible—we wouldn’t want lawsof war that, for example, licensed genocide just in case doing soleads to fewer deaths overall. But to follow this course, we need toknow which harms are (extra-institutionally) wrongful. Similarly,contractualists typically acknowledge various constraints on the kindsof rules that could form the basis of a legitimate contract, which,again, we cannot work out without thinking about theextra-institutional morality of war (Benbaji 2011).
Many of the Just War Theory's traditional criteria for going to war set the threshold for war too low, and other criteria are too subjective to be of value.
Even within interactional just war theory, several second-orderdisagreements underscore first-order disputes. First: when thinkingabout the ethics of war, what kinds of cases should we use to test ourintuitions and our principles? We can start by thinking about actualwars and realistic wartime scenarios, paying attention tointernational affairs and military history. Or, more clinically, wecan construct hypothetical cases to isolate variables and test theirimpact on our intuitions.
Rather than seek to justify any given war as just, Christians should instead state that all war is unjust and should only be condoned when it is clearly a lesser evil than other non-lethal alternatives.
Once the current structural evils have been eliminated and structures more conducive to international justice have been put in place, the world can move beyond any need for war in any circumstance and toward a future where worldwide peace and justice are attainable goals.
Instead of using terms that sanitize the horrors of war or that demonize one's opponents in a conflict, people interested in justice and peace should use terms that accurately portray the reality of the situation being described.