The Price of Peace: Just War in the Twenty-First Century

  • Published

The Price of Peace: Just War in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Charles Reed and David Ryall. Cambridge University Press, 2007, 358 pp.

The Price of Peace is a collection of brilliantly written essays that cover the tumultuous topic of modern-day application of just war theory. The book is compiled and edited by noted British ethicists Charles Reed, international policy adviser to the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Unit and author of Just War?, and David Ryall, assistant general secretary to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and contributor to International Relations, Third World Quarterly, and World Today.

The editors define and supporte their thesis that the just war tradition continues to serve as a relevant tool for analyzing global order, peace, and security; however, changing conditions necessitate an effort to update the just war traditions to consider modern-day conflicts and situations accurately. By pooling the talents of many well-known just war ethicists, the book makes a strong case for reinterpreting aspects of just war tradition to better define use against nonstate actors in asymmetric operating conditions, but it falls short of justifying significant revisions.

Structured around four themes, the essays lead the reader through the American and British perspectives on just war theory, intervention in humanitarian crises, responding to modern-day security threats, and planning for warfare’s aftermath. The introduction provides a thorough overview, presenting the authors’ opinions and positions and further highlighting the salient points of each essay.

Theme one introduces just war theory from the American and British state and civil society perspectives. George Weigel succinctly describes just war development, pointing out the modern-day implications with its use. James Turner Johnson provides an excellent description of how many modern religions interpret just war thinking. Nigel Biggar’s essay, “Between development and doubt: the recent career of just war doctrine in British churches,” is so convincing that the reader will ponder whether any change to the just war tradition is needed at all.

The book’s second theme describes the modern challenges that require just war revision. Although the United Nations concluded in 2005 that military intervention may be necessary in situations where gross humanitarian rights violations occur, the criteria for these actions is wanting for interpretation. Included in this theme is the need to define sovereign actions against terrorist networks and those who enable terrorism through providing sanctuary or weapons with the potential to cause mass effects. The authors provide fantastic descriptions of these situations; however, the terrorism arguments tend to mirror obvious and common-knowledge solutions and generally fail to convince the reader to pursue significant changes to existing just war theory.

In the third theme, modern warfare strategies and techniques are applied to situations that necessitate just war theory consideration. Paul Cornish’s conclusion that effects-based operations overwhelm leaders to the point of blending jus ad bellum and jus in bellow, thus violating just war principles, is shallow in analysis and unconvincing of the need for change. Also included in this theme is Terrence Kelly’s superbly written essay, “The just conduct of war against radical Islamic terror and insurgencies,” which provides excellent comparisons of traditional and radical Islamic thinking and America’s need to think beyond its traditional warfare mindset. Although rushed in description and reasoning, his case for modern just war thinking is logical and thought provoking.

The final theme advocates just war theory changes for the conclusion of warfare to produce peace following conflict. The authors effectively describe the impacts of many peace-producing institutions but provide little evidence and few solutions to support changing just war or how peace might be achieved.

The editors saved the best writings for the conclusion, which skillfully ties together many of the arguments and perspectives used throughout the book. Of interest is the divergence between the British and American perspectives, especially with respect to the many interpretations of UN authority for authorizing armed conflict. The Price of Peace concludes with the convincing argument that just war tradition remains a relevant tool for exercising statecraft; however, modern transitions to the institutions, such as the United Nations and the actions of nonstate actors, have shown cause for changes to interpretations and perspectives to continue the relevancy of the tradition. The conclusion identifies the fact that just war tradition is used as a basis, sometimes subconsciously, for decisions regarding use of force.

Readers will find The Price of Peace to be an interesting articulation of American and British perspectives of just war history with modern-day challenges injected. Students of military strategy and ethics will appreciate the just war tradition review and modern-day conflict application and will quickly conclude that today’s global challenges no longer fit neatly into the just war definitions. The essays most definitely achieve the editors’ goal of generating questions and debate rather than merely providing answers.

COL Eric Smith, USA

Air War College

"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."