“Are We Fighting Yet?” Can Traditional Just War Concepts Cope with Contemporary Conflict and the Changing Character of War?

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In a time when the clear dividing lines between war and peace are challenged by new techniques and methods of conducting hostilities, it is often difficult to tell if one is in a state of war or not. Even states that do not consider themselves to be ‘at war’ find themselves living under heightened security, with attacks on citizens, economic infrastructure, or way of life being a constant theme. Is this really what peace looks like now? This is not just an academic problem—determining what the context actually is can have profound implications for what one is permitted to do. War is, after all, a situation in which states, and individuals acting on behalf of those states, are permitted to carry out acts that are otherwise prohibited, including the deliberate and premeditated taking of human life. But what normative framework should we apply to guide our responses?
The Just War Tradition has provided a framework for thinking about warfare for well over 2,000 years. While the exact details may vary a little, the core ideas are shared across religious and secular culture, underpinning international law. However, should responses to terrorist activity, or ‘hybrid’ attacks, perhaps involving predominantly nonlethal methods such as subversion, cyber, or economic attrition, really be considered within such a framework, when many people would not consider such a context to represent war at all? This paper argues that despite its name, by concentrating on harm in a broader sense rather than its purely lethal manifestation, the type of moral reasoning that the Just War Tradition represents can actually be applied to a much broader set of contexts than might initially be imagined. This means that the Tradition remains a useful guide even when the exact status of the situation may be considered unclear.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-69
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2016


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