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Walzer, Just and Unjust War

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Walzer, Just and Unjust War (1977)


Context: Princeton social science prof; anti-Nam; idealist who understands national self-interest.


Thesis: The language of international law is primarily used to debate war. Walzer proposes that non-lawyers can apply practical morality (the present structure of the moral world) to debating the justification for war (jus ad bellum) and the conduct in fighting one (jus in bello). Walzer argues nations must fight a just war with a just cause in a just manner.


Argument: Walzer attempts to use historical examples to prove his point of practical morality in debating war. One of his fundamental contentions is the right to life and liberty – involving people in a war against their will is immoral. He condemns wars of aggression and attacks against civilians.


1. Jus ad bellum – just war; jus in bello – just action in war; a just war can be fought unjustly and an unjust war can be fought justly.

1.1. Rules of War: restraints are the product of culture, religion, social structures, etc.

1.2. We hold soldiers to higher standards even when they are compelled to fight

1.3. When are compelled to fight, they are responsible only for their actions - not the just or unjust nature of the war they are compelled to fight.

1.4. Whether soldiers fight as volunteers or by compulsion, military conduct is governed by rules.


2. Law and Order in International Society: States have rights of territorial integrity and political sovereignty – are justified in protecting it via self-defense and international intervention.


3. Preventive war: war fought to maintain the balance of power before an imminent threat exists


4. Preemptive strikes: the line between legitimate and illegitimate strikes does not balance on imminent threat but at the point of sufficient threat.


5. Interventions: states should never interfere in the domestic affairs of other. Civil Wars are problems as they blur the distinction between the opponents right to govern


6. War’s Means – the Importance of Fighting Well

6.1. Utility and proportionality--it is not permissible to do "any mischief which does not tend materially to the end [of victory], nor any mischief of which the conduciveness to the end is slight in comparison with the amount of the mischief.”

6.2. Excessive harm--two criteria: 1) Victory is a military necessity; 2) Proportionality

6.3. Double Effect: Noncombatants cannot be attacked at any time. They can never be the objects or the targets of military activity.

6.4. Soldiers must take positive steps to limit even unintended civilian deaths and must take steps to enforce the war convention and hold men under their command to its standards.


7.Supreme Emergency: supports the concept of necessity based on imminent danger and its nature. If we are to adopt or defend the adoption of extreme measures, the danger must be of an unusual and horrifying kind – Nazism


8. The Crime of Aggression: Political Leaders and Citizens

8.1. The assignment of responsibility is the critical test of the argument for justice – based not on the sovereignty of the political community but on the representativeness of its leaders.

8.2. Democratic responsibilities: "The greater the possibility of free action in the communal sphere, the greater the degree of guilt for evil deeds done in the name of everyone."


Implications for Strategy:

- Morality must be a consideration in determining whether to fight and how to fight. Even if your enemy doesn’t adhere to your morality, you will be best served by adhering to it.

- The morality of soldiers and officers reflects and impacts society.

- The legal argument alone cannot sufficiently inform the decision to go to war. The debate rests on practical morality.

- Practical morality is relative to the time and place in history, thus it changes. Be cognizant of the domestic and international environment when deciding on a military course of action.

- Right and wrong come from the moral conscience of man; basis for moral code is the people of a state


Current Issue: Pre-emption vs Prevention (Walzer: Prevention is unjust.)

- 3 parts to pre-emption: manifest intent to injure, active preparation that makes intent a positive danger, and a situation in which waiting (doing anything but fighting) magnifies the risk

Current Issue: Supreme Emergency (Walzer: 9/11 does not constitute one.)

- threat must be imminent and serious

- Connection to the lesser evil argument; in supreme emergency, state might trade rights for security

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