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Just War Reconsidered

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Just War Reconsidered: Strategy, Ethics, and Theory by Lt Gen James M. Dubik, USA, Retired. University of Kentucky Press, 2016, 225 pp.


James Dubik’s Just War Reconsidered uses just war theory as a lens to examine the political and moral responsibility of military officers and policy makers at the strategic and operational level of war. Dubik’s central claim is that just war theory is incomplete. Traditional just war theory distinguishes the decision to go to war (jus ad bellum), which is the province of policy makers, from how a war is fought (jus in bello), which is the responsibility of the military. Dubik introduces a new level of analysis to jus in bello: how a war is waged. Fighting justly involves choosing weapons and targets to achieve war aims while minimizing the effect on those not engaged in harm. Waging war justly involves setting war aims, choosing strategies and policies, and prodding bureaucracies to achieve, assess, and readjust those aims and policies as needed, with the knowledge that the lives of those affected by war—soldiers, civilians, and even adversaries—have moral value. While the initial choice of aims and strategies is part of jus ad bellum, the dynamic nature of war requires continual reassessment and adjustment as war progresses, properly situating war-waging choices within jus in bello. The moral and political responsibility for waging war is shared between policy makers and military officers. 
Dubik draws on classical and contemporary just war theory as well as civil-military relations theory to support his argument. In just war theory, he relies principally on Michael Walzer and his war convention, although he also acknowledges the influence of revisionists such as Jeff McMahan and David Rodin. In civil-military relations, he describes Samuel Huntington’s model of objective civilian control and Peter Feaver’s principal-agent theory but prefers Eliot Cohen’s model of “unequal dialogue.” His summaries of these works are ideal for those who may not be familiar with them. They are clear, concise, and do justice to the theories while pointing out how they are deficient, giving rise to the need for this book. Dubik illustrates his points with examples drawn from the Civil War, World War II, Vietnam, both Iraq wars, and Afghanistan, with a strong emphasis on the most recent conflicts. 
Dubik identifies five jus in bello war-waging principles: continuous dialogue between military and civilian leaders; final decision authority, which rests with civilians; managerial competence in carrying out policies; maintaining legitimacy, which he identifies as a function of both a righteous cause and the probability of success; and resignation as an option for military officers under certain conditions. These principles are a framework, not a checklist. They do not guarantee strategic success, but “senior civilian and military leaders who follow [them] are acting justly with respect to . . . their war-waging responsibilities” (p. 138).
As his principles suggest, Dubik’s argument melds professional ethics and civil-military relations. He faults Huntington’s model for drawing an artificial distinction between politics and war and deferring too much to the military in waging war. Echoing Clausewitz, Dubik identifies a trinity of war-waging concerns that incorporates both political and military elements: achieving coherence by setting aims and choosing strategies and policies likely to achieve those aims; generating organizational capacity to achieve those aims at the least cost in lives and resources, adapting when required; and maintaining legitimacy by fighting justly, engaging public support, and keeping the military subordinate to civilian authority. If Huntington defers too much to the military, in Dubik’s view Feaver defers too little. The civilians’ “right to be wrong,” central to Feaver’s agency theory, does not give sufficient weight to the moral content of decisions that spend the lives of soldiers and on which military officers are likely to have important insight. Cohen’s model of unequal dialogue is described as “necessary but insufficient,” in part because it fails to address the importance of executing and reassessing policy.
Attention or inattention to execution and assessment profoundly influences the duration and likely success of war. This is central to maintaining legitimacy and makes the difference between sustainable sacrifice and spending lives vain. Dubik does not demand perfection in policy formulation, execution, and assessment but argues that “a cycle of sustained imprudence” is immoral as well as unwise. Given the moral stakes, Dubik’s remedy for an officer who cannot meet her jus in bello war-waging responsibilities is unsatisfying. The first responsibility of an officer is to make her views known in the privacy of the policy formulation process. If the process consistently fails to assess or acknowledge sustained policy failure so much that continuing current policy is certain to waste lives, Dubik argues, an officer may resign. But, in line with many other scholars, he argues against making the reason for such a resignation public, as to do so would undermine the principle of civilian control. His argument is nuanced: he notes that civilian policy makers who resign under similar circumstances have no obligation to remain quiet and suggests that the disruptive effects of resignation may be enough to force change. Nevertheless, quiet resignation may salvage an officer’s own conscience but offers cold comfort to those doomed by imprudent and immoral policy. That is a high price to pay for the norm of military officers not offering public criticism of civilian policy choices (as distinct from disobedience).
Far from being a criticism, such argument is precisely the type of debate that Dubik hopes to provoke. “Undeniably, what I have presented will be found deficient,” he writes in the book’s final lines. “Equally undeniable, however, is that the content of this book advances the understanding of the moral dimension of war and may stimulate more discussion about an important dimension of just war theory the prevailing view omits” (p. 172). In this, his powerful and provocative book succeeds admirably.
Doyle Hodges



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