The Ethics of War and Peace Revisited: Moral Challenges in an Era of Contested and Fragmented Sovereignty

  • Published

The Ethics of War and Peace Revisited: Moral Challenges in an Era of Contested and Fragmented Sovereignty edited by Daniel R. Brunstetter and Jean-Vincent Holeindre. Georgetown University Press, 2018, 336 pp.

The Ethics of War and Peace Revisited, edited by Daniel R. Brunstetter and Jean-Vincent Holeindre, is a collection of academic essays assembled into topical chapters following the Borchard Foundation’s International Relations and Security Conference held in France during the summer of 2014. The conference brought together American and European scholars to study modern-day influences on state sovereignty and how these may impact statecraft. Focusing on sovereignty evolution since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, conference participants explored military intervention among states, war evolution and how future war may appear, and the most pressing challenges regarding the ethics of war and peace for the future.

The Treaty of Westphalia defined modern international relations and state sovereignty. It further specified that borders are inviolable and that outsiders may not interfere in the domestic affairs of another sovereign state. The modern era has witnessed challenges to the traditional notions of sovereignty with the state’s internal control diminished, especially in circumstances where sovereignty is contested and fractured. According to the book, contested sovereignty occurs when internal conditions cause outsiders to enter the state. Examples of contested sovereignty may include another state or international institution invoking the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine to resolve a humanitarian crisis; a preventive strike against another state well in advance of the conflict escalating; or use of standoff weapons, like drones, to influence governance or rebellion. Fractured sovereignty, on the other hand, is seen when a state has lost control of a portion of its territory. Examples of fractured sovereignty include border collapse, ungoverned areas, and non-state actors freely operating without government oversight. The book pursues explanations of why sovereignty continues to erode and what state control may look like in the future.

As many scholars contributed to the book, the reader will find various opinions and perspectives throughout, but several common themes exist among the contributors. First, an apparent conflict exists between law enforcement and use of military force. This clash is seen in scenarios where the state prefers military tactics and weapons over law enforcement capabilities when attempting to control the population. The reader is left with questions about the differences between law enforcement and military enforcement and whether scenarios exist where law enforcement performing its duties actually becomes military in nature.

Second, troubled by governments’ preference for using force against non-state actors, the contributors explore how the sovereign decides what level of force is needed. In some scenarios, a paradigm called jus ad vim—use of military force in circumstances short of traditional war—is used in concert with the traditional just war theory elements of jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Jus ad vim serves as an alternative framework when military force is desired to counter a non-state opponent that possesses significant military capabilities posing a challenge to the sovereign’s resources and authority. Non-state organizations are particularly troublesome, as these groups often live among a sovereign state’s population and may receive funding, training, and weapons from outside states.

Third, R2P was popular among the contributing authors, with some considering it as a complement or possible successor to just war theory. Of great concern is that R2P in its current form is problematic, as a sovereign state often weighs national interests over humanitarian considerations when deciding to forcibly enter another state.

Finally, the contributors insist on the need to temper use of force in the modern day, but all agree, regretfully, that military force is sometimes necessary when conducting statecraft. They are emphatic that statesmen have an inherent responsibility to act ethically and with prudent judgment when using force.

In the conclusion, the contributors identify recent changes found in war. These include lower casualties and fewer state-on-state conflicts, states using aggressive actions against non-state groups, and a preference for using standoff weapons. While not perfect, just war theory remains the default framework for debating and evaluating war, communicating with the public about conflict, and defining desired ethical behavior for the military. The emerging trend is to supplement just war theory with other frameworks like jus ad vim and the responsibility to protect.

The book’s contributors see more study needed on all frameworks used in statecraft, as they may lack depth for understanding immediate crises and be biased toward acting upon the last war instead of the current conflict. Also, the meaning of winning and concluding wars in the modern era is unclear, especially when humility among participants and humanitarian assistance are highly valued.

For those with interests in international relations, modern war scenarios, state sovereignty, and just war theory, the book serves as an excellent source of differing academic perspectives and opinions. The reader will also find interesting discussions on topics related to use of force and recent ethical issues involving drones in warfare, engaging non-state actors, and humanitarian crises that challenge sovereignty.

COL Eric Smith, PhD, USA, Retired


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."