Academic journal article Parameters

The Ethics of Armed Conflict: A Cosmopolitan Just War Theory

Academic journal article Parameters

The Ethics of Armed Conflict: A Cosmopolitan Just War Theory

Article excerpt

The Ethics of Armed Conflict: A Cosmopolitan Just War Theory

By John W. Lango

Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 2014

246 pages



The Ethics of Armed Conflict: A Cosmopolitan Just War Theory, John Lango brings a cosmopolitan, universal human rights orientation to the discussion of Just War Theory that is accessible to non-specialists. His thesis is that Just War Theory should be understood deontologically and oriented around the following points: 1) a revisionist approach to just war, including all kinds of responsible agents; 2) a focus on the Security Council; 3) a preventative approach, including non-violent tools; 4) a temporalizing approach to present and future conflicts; 5) a coherentist approach, including just war and general moral principles and real-world cases; and 6) a universal human rights approach, including a variety of forms of armed conflict, (ix) There are multiple themes and moving parts in this ambitious book; it covers a great deal of philosophical ground with significant discussion of real-world conflicts, past and present.

As a scholar and teacher of the Just War Tradition and military ethics, I found several points worth highlighting. First, Lango raises the issue of which acts count as military actions as opposed to non-military actions--notably the question of whether threats of military force are types of military actions and count as war. The second is his focus on the Security Council and the locus for cosmopolitan arguments; Lango admits it is flawed, but it is the best we have at present. Third, he wants to expand the class of persons considered under Just War Theory to "all responsible persons," not just the usual combatant/non-combatant distinctions. Finally, he considers the question of whether one can justify using military threats to prevent mass atrocities; this is a question of keen interest to those considering humanitarian interventions or peacekeeping operations.

While there is much that merits consideration in this book, and I commend the complexity of the issues and theoretical considerations Lango is wrestling with, this volume is still heavy on theory and would be challenging for non-specialists to find accessible and useful. I think that is the nature of these kinds of discussions, and it is a difficult needle to thread. Case studies certainly help in this regard, but there are too many theoretical balls in the air to hold onto the flow of the argument from beginning to end, much less to then reflect upon the implications of the arguments Lango is making for the practice and conduct of war. …

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