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Massimo Renzo (KCL): “Political Self-Determination and Wars of National Defense”

2 March 2016, 5:30 pm7:00 pm

Abstract: A war of national defense (WND) is a war waged by a victim state (V) to defend itself against an attack whose aim is not to kill any of the members of V, but rather to acquire control over certain “political goods.” These political goods include: i) the control of V’s political institutions; ii) the imposition of certain political and cultural values on V’s population; iii) the acquisition of V’s territory; iv) the seizure of V’s natural resources. To be sure, WND do involve some killing, but only to the extent that the victims of the attack resist the aggression. If the victims surrender, no blood will be spilled.

Both international law and common sense morality regard WND as the paradigm of justified wars. However, “revisionist” approaches to just war (according to which justified wars are ultimately reducible to the sum of a number of acts of killing, each of which is permissible according to the principles of interpersonal morality) struggle to justify the permissibility of waging WND. This is because the interest that individuals have in being part of a community that retains control over a certain territory and/or political institutions does not seem weighty enough to warrant: a) intentionally killing enemy combatants; b) unintentionally but foreseeably killing civilians as a side-effect. And if this is true, it looks as if interpersonal morality would rule out WND as disproportionate: victims have a duty to surrender instead of waging such wars. A number of philosophers, including Cecile Fabre, Jeff McMahan and Helen Frowe, have offered revisionist arguments for the permissibility of waging WND. I argue that these accounts are ultimately unsuccessful and outline an alternative one, based on the value of political self-determination.




2 March 2016
5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
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Lakatos Building
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