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Human Rights and Ethics

Re-casting the Ethics of Wars

The jus ad bellum in positive international law has diverged from its classical ancestor - the just war tradition; this is evident in the UN Charter, the drafters of which sought to sanctify state sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence, and to promote the value of peace, i.e. the absence of war, over the value of justice. However, in the 21st century, it has become apparent that the desire for justice is at least as strong as that for peace, hence the emergence of attempts purporting to justify measures more permissive than the Charter.

The recasting of jus ad bellum in a way that meets the needs of the 21st century is visible in the difficulties faced by the Special Working Group on the Crime of Aggression in its effort to define the elements of this crime for the International Criminal Court. The vast array of uses of force poses significant challenges to defining "aggression" in a coherent and morally progressive way. The same applies to responses to "aggressions" – the use of force to liberate Kuwait or the deployment of UN peace operations may be justified, but many other responses outside the authorization of the Security Council have enjoyed variable political and moral judgments, both in support and in condemnation.

One step toward addressing these challenges is for scholars to look beyond the limitations of their respective fields - for lawyers, this means looking beyond the four corners of treaties and conventions and retooling positive law to achieve more ethical and moral results, i.e. focusing on lex ferenda instead of lex lata. For political scientists, this means freeing oneself from models that strive to predict the behaviour of communities and instead working to identify and advance universal values. The project utilizes such approaches from both camps – both disciplines are vital constituents of the just war tradition (and its cross-cultural equivalents) – contributing to the development of a modern jus ad bellum that will achieve a better balance between peace and justice.


Page last modified 2019.04.16.

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