The dynamics of contemporary war and civilian protection pose at least three challenges for the defence of the justice of ‘humanitarian’ wars aimed at civilian protection.
First, alongside a resurgence in pacifist and non-violent thought (i.e., Jackson, 2018) there is growing evidence of the effectiveness of non-violent modes of civilian protection, including unarmed peacekeeping and civilian defence forces (i.e., Julian and Gasser, 2018). This evidence stands in marked contrast to the recent record of military modes of protection, which have left devastation in their wake in North Africa and the Middle East.
Second, where war was once fought by soldiers on a battlefield, the vast majority of victims of contemporary war, war-related displacement and wartime sexual violence are civilians.
Third, in a globalised and radically interconnected world, would-be humanitarian saviours are often implicated in the very atrocities that elicit calls for protection: France trained soldiers that carried out genocide in Rwanda; and the USA and others have been stoking ethnic tensions that underlie Shia-Sunni conflict in the Middle East. By favouring stylised thought experiments over engagement with the reality of war, just war theorists have neglected the significance of the changing dynamics of war and the growing evidence for the effectiveness of non-violence. Moreover, instead of taking the growing impacts of wars on civilians as a reason to call into question the justice of war, they have sought to account for when and why civilians are liable to be killed ‘justly’ (Frowe, 2014).
Finally, where just war theorists have noted the complicity of would-be saviours in creating the crises that they then attempt to solve through humanitarian war, they have come to contradictory conclusions. While Fabre (2012) concludes that, e.g., France’s complicity in the Rwandan genocide might give France an additional duty to intervene militarily, Nili (2011) calls for ‘humanitarian disintervention’.
This project will assess anew the ethics of war and civilian protection. Methodologically, it will eschew the abstract thought experiments of just war thinking by focusing on real-life examples and the real-world impacts of war. In departing from the stultified approach common in research on the ethics of war, findings may be surprising, unexpected and in marked contrast with recent directions in just war thinking.
Whilst findings are uncertain, the research direction is clear. The project will interrogate the ethics of war in the context of the empirical record of violent and non-violent means of civilian protection; the growing proportion of civilians killed in war; and the role that would-be saviours play in creating humanitarian crises. In the process, it will address the question, without having a predetermined conception of the answer that will emerge, of whether philosophers concerned with the ethics of war should renounce just war theory.