Academic journal article Military Review

Ethical Challenges in Stability Operations

Academic journal article Military Review

Ethical Challenges in Stability Operations

Article excerpt


IN MAY 2003, the United States began the daunting task of nation building in Iraq by rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure and reformulating its political institutions. The military's role in modern stability operations, though seemingly new, fits into a preexisting American foreign policy formula. However, the military sees stability operations through contemporary ethical lenses. Since each case depends upon current ethical understanding about what the military should or should not do, past examples of stability operations do not necessarily provide fitting frameworks for modern efforts. This article focuses on ethical abstractions as well as the ways national and social views of how "right" and "wrong" translate into political and military application, and it examines examples of stability operations and the ethical challenges and implications such efforts raise. (1)

Morality in Post-war Operations

Even though moral rhetoric often permeates stability operations, international stability and perceived strategic interests have overridden moral obligations as determinants for American military commitments. A study of the ethical implications of conducting stability operations today bridges a historiographic gap in the understanding of morality in warfare. Scholars have often alluded to the prevalence of the Just War Tradition in (Western) military thought. (2) However, the Just War model is insufficient when discussing stability operations because it only describes jus ad bellum (rationale for going to war in the first place) and jus in hello (appropriate conduct during war). (3) The moral reasons for going to war are not always the same as the reasons the victor uses to justify occupation of the defeated nation. Jus in bello does continue to have relevance during stability operations, particularly when armed hostilities exist between "insurgents" and the government, unarmed civilians, and occupying forces. Legal discourse that constitutes the "Laws of War" cover much of this. (4) However, there is nothing in jus in bello that compels the victorious nation to provide security, rebuild infrastructure, improve public services, and see to the establishment of a democratic form of government. (5) In the final pages of Arguing About War (2004), noted Just War historian Michael Walzer raises the issue of morality in post-war operations, and he suggests further scholarly inquiry into a new jus post bellum theory.

Walzer argues, "It seems clear that you can fight a just war, and fight it justly, and still make a moral mess of the aftermath." Conversely, "a misguided military intervention or a preventive war fought before its time might nonetheless end with the displacement of a brutal regime and the construction of a decent one." (6) Walzer's argument highlights the need for a deeper understanding of the ethical aspects of stability operations.

Stability Operations in American History

The term "stability operations" is an inexact concept. It can be all encompassing or exclusionary, depending upon its usage. The 2008 edition of U.S. Army Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, describes stability operations as--

   Encompass[ing] various military missions,
   tasks, and activities conducted outside the
   United States in coordination with other
   instruments of national power to maintain
   or reestablish a safe and secure environment,
   provide essential governmental services,
   emergency infrastructure reconstruction,
   and humanitarian relief. Stability operations
   can be conducted in support of a host-nation
   or interim government or as part of
   an occupation when no government exists.
   Stability operations involve both coercive
   and constructive military actions. They help
   to establish a safe and secure environment
   and facilitate reconciliation among local or
   regional adversaries. Stability operations
   can also help establish political, legal, social,
   and economic institutions and support the
   transition to legitimate local governance. … 
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