Friday, May 25, 2012

Have changes in the character of warfare necessitated re-evaluating the ethics of war?

War, in contrast to peace, is the ‘evil’ side of humanity and human relations. War and ethics have always come together; it is not a modern theory; as Walzer states, “For as long as men and women have talked about war, they have talked about it in terms of right and wrong”[1]. But today, after so many wars and so many total wars (the two World Wars), this has come to the forefront, not only in the academic field but also in the political one. The Just War tradition is in the modern epoch a crucial point, taken into account for all military interventions.
The character of warfare has changed. Today one can identify the main use of the air force, which limits casualties, at least from the attacker’s point of view. Weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons and the new technologies have altered warfare forever. But it is important to identify that it is “not only the ends but the means which settle whether or not a war is just”[2]. This means that any disproportionate and excessive act is wrong.


It is crucial here to state that ethics are contested. Is there a one, unique, global ethical code that everyone follows? People all around the world seem to have diverse views about ethics. Many believe that “all ethical values are relative to culture”[3]. This might be the case but one should take in to account the fact that we are all humans, with the same aspirations, dreams and goals. Ethical values are similar if not the same around the world, especially when it comes to matters that affect everyone in the international field.
In this paper I will show how the change in warfare does not necessarily have to re-evaluate the ethics of war. This is why we can identify Clausewitz’s relevance even today, as Dr Gray explains “the objective nature of war is permanent”[4]; the means are the ones that change and evolve. Through many paradigms from the twentieth century we will see how this is realised, taking in to perspective older wars and conflicts. However, it is also true that ethics have played a positive role, making wars less brutal. The role of international organisations, for example the UN and its role in the maintenance of ethics and a more humane theory behind this inhuman act, will show the importance of ethics and how they still prevail and are taken in to a serious account. Nevertheless, it is important to see the positive reaction towards these international bodies, making wars less barbaric. War, although brutal, it has changed towards a positive manner.
To show how ethics and morals around the act of war have not changed dramatically it is important to use an example from a previous period, to emphasize the everlasting values that come with the idea and the act of war. The Melian Dialogue is the best paradigm for this case. The powerful Athenians show their power to the small island of Melos, in a realist manner. Although they did not have the weapons that exist today, still they acted in a cruel and inhumane way. After getting their way, as explained by Thucydides towards the end of his fifth book, “the Athenians thereupon put to death all who were of military age, and made slaves of the women and children. They then colonised the island”[5]. This shows how the powerful have always acted in the same way and that what Athenians said is still true today, that “the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must”[6]. “The Athenians shared a moral vocabulary, shared it with the people of Mytilene and Melos; and allowing for cultural differences, they share it with us too”[7].  This is the realist approach to war, where morality and ethics have no place. Although the world has changed we can state that morality has remained the same. Nevertheless, since the end of the Cold War and with the international institutions (UN, Red Cross, Geneva Convention and many more), a more ethical way of combat is being introduced, where the barbaric practises and the disproportionate acts of wars up to World War II have been abandoned.   
It is important here to analyse the Just War tradition and its effect on the modern way of warfare, which is relevant to the matter concerning ethics. Norman observes that the just war tradition “has been the dominant intellectual tradition of thought about the morality of war”[8]. “The definition of a just military action is any action necessary and proportionate to winning the war”[9]. This tradition has two branches, the ius ad bellum (meaning the justice into going to war) and the ius in bello (which means the manner with which an actor manages a war). The latter one is important for us here, that is why I will not analyse the ius ad bellum, which is an enormous topic on its own and because it is not relevant to the question, as is the ius in bello, which has two main sections that are important. Discrimination is the first factor. This emphasises the importance in war that the soldiers should aim at the enemy soldiers. Civilians should not be in the middle of this quarrel. This today can be translated into that the air force should aim at military sites, buildings and not towards cities and areas which are populated by civilians. This was the unfortunate case in World War II where both sides bombed cities. A great paradigm is Dresden, where the “historic centre, on the southern bank of the Elbe were consumed. A second wave of bombers ... extended the destruction killing thousands of people who had fled the fires”[10]. The second factor is proportionality. The outcome should always be more positive than negative. The way with which war is fought should be morally correct. Exaggerations are unacceptable. One historical embellishment was the use of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was an unexpected use of enormous force against a state that did not pose a threat as did Nazi Germany. This is why there has been a “rebirth of interest in the just war tradition”[11] and it has been widely spread due to the human rights and globalization which prevail in our modern epoch.
The change of warfare is the key issue here but it does not mean that ethics should change with it. Today wars are waged by states, which should and most of the time do follow international law and abide by the UN laws. In spite of this, paradigms of the hegemonic powers going against these laws are observed even to this day.Such instance is the USA going against the UN when it decided to go to war in Iraq. In any case it’s important to take in to account that “if you wish to pursue a goal which appears to be otherwise ethically permitted or even required, then you must pursue it by means that are ethically satisfactory – and if there are no ways that are ethically satisfactory, then you have to rethink the rightness of the goal”[12].
During the 20th and now in the 21st centuries one can easily identify the improvement of the technologies concerning warfare. Nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction have brought mankind close to the brink of annihilation. Nevertheless, there are many international bodies which contribute in maintaining the proportionality needed when states are blinded by their goals and ambitions. “The web of institutions (like the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC]), agreements (the Hague and Geneva Conventions) have all constrained the use of force in twentieth century politics and have certainly helped mitigate some of its worst excesses, for all that the century as a whole was a staggering bloody one”[13].   
During the 20th century “legal and moral thought in the just war tradition have sought to limit the right of individual states to resort to force, while reserving a somewhat larger latitude to international organizations”[14], especially the United Nations. The United Nations Charter has changed the way with which states go to war. Since they are the main political actors in the international field, and as Clausewitz believes that “war is merely the continuation of policy by other means”[15], the Charter refers to its member states and how they are forbidden into threatening other political actors. The only war which is allowed is a defensive one. As the UN Charter, Article 2 (4) emphasises; “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any state against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action”[16].  The international arena has been transformed by these international bodies and by globalization. The modern world does not live in a Hobbesian world, but in a Lockean one. Liberalism prevails today, where state actors comply with the international norms, due to the fact that they correspond to their interests. The UN is the embodiment of morality in the modern world, although it does find it hard to realise its goals. However, “a contemporary jus ad bellum is developing in the practice of the UN and of individual states”[17].   
It is vital at this point to show, through some case studies how modern warfare and ethics come together. What is evident, through the international organisations, is that technology is improving and inventing ways of destroying life as we know it are increasing; however, these bodies and conventions have contributed into keeping back these weapons and the political actors from actually fulfilling their goals. The objectives of every state is not to commence an unjust war, which isn’t as Hobbes stated “a war misliked; it is a war misliked for particular reasons”[18]. This was the case with the war in Korea, where the bombing of civilian populations could be seen as an ethical conviction. The bombings of civilians in Vietnam by the USA are until this day a controversial factor. In Vietnam a crucial feature was the rule against killing civilians, which was an important one, more than ever before.
            The Persian Gulf War in 1991 “continued the trend toward increasingly restrained bombing in order to minimize direct casualties to non-combatants”[19]. This is where the cultural and religious buildings where protected and not bombed, in contrast to World War II where cities were destroyed and historical buildings bombed, for example in London, Coventry, Dresden. A just war had to be fought in order for political support from the international and domestic arena to stay intact. Even if one sees only the political goals of maintaining the ethical side of war in one piece, it is important to identify the existence of ethics and the prevalence of them after the end of World War II and especially after the end of the Cold War.
            A recent paradigm is the NATO campaign, i.e. the air operation, over Yugoslavia, in respect to the crises witnessed in Kosovo, by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. The unique feature in this war was that President Bill Clinton excluded the use of ground forces. “For the first time, the use of air strikes alone brought a foe to its knees – and at the cost of no NATO lives”[20]. The disappearance of collateral damage was important in this war; that is why “the toll on the civilian population was indeed relatively limited”[21]. A key issue, which is common in most if not all the previous wars, from antiquity till the modern era, is the destruction of the enemy’s morale. This was also the case in Kosovo, where television and radio stations were targeted, as were factories, public roads, bridges, oil refineries and anything that would inflict directly or indirectly the civilian population. The high point of this was the immobilisation of the national power grid. But although technology has improved it has yet to reach the point where it does not make mistakes. These collateral damages were emphasized by Serbia and by the media, which used this for propaganda. However, it was recognized that during the war “some European allies resisted escalated air attacks that would endanger civilians and NATO officials also scrutinized the target list to comply with international legal proscriptions”[22]. Eliot Cohen alleged that “air power is an unusually seductive form of military strength, in part because, like modern courtship, it appears to offer gratification without commitment”[23]. This is the situation in many cases, especially after the Cold War with the improvement of the military air force. 
            Iraq is the final and most recent paradigm. Kahl in his article has a poll where many Muslim states believe that the USA “didn’t try very hard to avoid civilian casualties in Iraq”[24]. The same was believed by ally nations in the West. Although this is the case an improvement has been identified, especially in comparison to other wars in the past but also towards the beginning of this campaign. Soldiers are trained in the rules of engagement (ROE), which stresses the importance of conforming with the laws of war. Even “the number of US air strikes has also declined sharply since the end of major combat, indicating the US military’s heightened concern for proportionality”[25]. This last example shows the change in the theory of war and who fights it. As with Afghanistan and partly with Iraq, the US and its allies went to war to fight the war on terrorism. This did not exist before, where the main political actors fought each other, that is why questions of how these groups should be fought are raised. 


            It is also essential to stress the importance of ethics in warfare due to the fact that we live in an era where “the CNN factor”[26] plays a crucial role, analysing and inspecting every action taken by the military. Eliot Cohen describes this case by stating that, “as television makes military blunders and accidents ever more evident, airmen will find themselves trying to explain away civilian suffering that previous generations would have accepted as the regrettable but inevitable price of military action”[27]. It is evident that even from the media; the military has a pressure of keeping war ‘clean’ and moral. The technology exists for mass destruction but ethics restrict the military from acting in such ways.
            In previous eras it was evident that ethics and war did not coexist. Two paradigms emphasise this. Kant considered “war as the antithesis of the moral law”[28]. Carl von Clausewitz, the greatest expert on war, believed that “to introduce the principle of moderation into the theory of war itself would always lead to logical absurdity”[29]. Nevertheless, through the case studies presented above it is easy to identify that modern warfare and ethics co-exist.
            Modern warfare, although evolving technologically it has also advanced morally. It is important to acknowledge that the change in the character of warfare has also kept its ‘barbaric’ form, as is expected when one actor goes to war. The ethics of war have been evaluated by the nature of modern wars, the technology used, the minimising of collateral damage. International organisations, such as the UN, human rights groups, have contributed in transforming the way with which the military should fight.
            Wars towards the end of the 20th century and until now, at the beginning of the 21st century, have become more ethical. Re-evaluating ethics of war due to the changes in the character of warfare are not necessitated. A change has come naturally, towards a positive outlook. Barbaric practices, such as the ones that took place in the past, from ancient Athens until World War II, have been forgotten. It is only right to hope that this pattern and modern tradition remains intact. But political actors during war could fight in a barbaric manner, showing that Kant and Clausewitz were right. The cruel practices should never in the future be repeated. What should prevail in this ethic of modern warfare is “a basic respect for life urged on those who engage in war”[30]. However, the ethical basis of war still remains the same and extreme situations might occur in the future.


[1] Walzer Michael, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, (New York, Basic Books: A Division of Harper Collins Publishers, 1977), p. 3
[2] Grayling A. C., Among the Dead Cities: Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime?, ( London, Bloomsbury, 2006), p. 214
[3] Dower Nigel, The Ethics of War and Peace: Cosmopolitan and Other Perspectives, (Cambridge, Polity Press, 2009), p. 18
[4] Echevaria Antulio, Gray Colin, ‘Clausewitz and “How Has War Changed?”’, Journal Article Excerpt, Parameters, Vol. 35, (2005)
[5] Jowett B., Thucydides, Vol. I, (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1881), p. 407
[6] Jowett B., Thucydides, Vol. I, (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1881), p. 399
[7] Walzer Michael, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, (New York, Basic Books: A Division of Harper Collins Publishers, 1977), p.
[8] Dower Nigel, The Ethics of War and Peace: Cosmopolitan and Other Perspectives, (Cambridge, Polity Press, 2009), p. 2
[9] Grayling A. C., Among the Dead Cities: Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime?, ( London, Bloomsbury, 2006), p. 214
[10] Packer George, ‘Letter From Dresden EMBERS: Will a prideful city finally confront its past?’, The New Yorker (01 February 2010), p. 32
[11] Rengger Nicholas, ‘On the Just War Tradition in the Twenty-First Century’, International Affairs, Vol. 78, No. 2 (April 2002), p. 359
[12] Dower Nigel, The Ethics of War and Peace: Cosmopolitan and Other Perspectives, (Cambridge, Polity Press, 2009), p. 94
[13] Rengger Nicholas, ‘On the Just War Tradition in the Twenty-First Century’, International Affairs, Vol. 78, No. 2 (April 2002), p. 356
[14] Johnson James Turner, Morality and Contemporary Warfare, ( New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1999), p. 58
[15] Clausewitz von Carl, On War, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008), p 28
[17] Johnson James Turner, Morality and Contemporary Warfare, ( New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1999), p. 69
[18] Walzer Michael, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, (New York, Basic Books: A Division of Harper Collins Publishers, 1977),p. 12
[19] Thomas Ward, The Ethics of Destruction: Norms and Force in International Relations, (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 2001), p. 158
[20] Byman Daniel, Waxman Matthew, ‘ Kosovo and the Great Air Power Debate’, International Security, Vol. 24, No. 4, (Spring 2000), p. 5
[21] Thomas Ward, The Ethics of Destruction: Norms and Force in International Relations, (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 2001), p. 162
[22] Byman Daniel, Waxman Matthew, ‘ Kosovo and the Great Air Power Debate’, International Security, Vol. 24, No. 4, (Spring 2000), p. 33
[23] Byman Daniel, Waxman Matthew, ‘ Kosovo and the Great Air Power Debate’, International Security, Vol. 24, No. 4, (Spring 2000), p. 38
[24] Kahl, Colin H., ‘How We Fight’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 85, Issue 6, (Nov/Dec 2006), pp. 83-101
[25] Kahl, Colin H., ‘How We Fight’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 85, Issue 6, (Nov/Dec 2006), pp. 83-101
[26] Thomas Ward, The Ethics of Destruction: Norms and Force in International Relations, (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 2001), p. 171
[27] Thomas Ward, The Ethics of Destruction: Norms and Force in International Relations, (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 2001), p. 175
[28] Rengger Nicholas, ‘On the Just War Tradition in the Twenty-First Century’, International Affairs, Vol. 78, No. 2 (April 2002), p. 357
[29] Clausewitz von Carl, On War, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 14
[30] Coates A. J., The Ethics of War, (Manchester and New York, Manchester University Press, 1997), p. 227

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