Tensions in a certain conception of just war as law enforcement

Res Publica 14 (4):303-311 (2008)
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Many just war theorists (call them traditionalists) claim that just as people have a right to personal self-defense, so nations have a right to national-defense against an aggressive military invasion. David Rodin claims that the traditionalist is unable to justify most defensive wars against aggression. For most aggressive states only commit conditional aggression in that they threaten to kill or maim the citizens of the nation they are invading only if those citizens resist the occupation. Most wars, then, claimed to be justified by the traditionalist fail to meet the proportionality criterion. Thus, a just war, for Rodin, is best conceived of as a punitive war of law enforcement, not as a war of national-defense. I argue that Rodin does not have a case against the traditionalist. If national-defense is a disproportionate response to conditional aggression, then punitive war is a disproportionate response as well. Furthermore, the belief that punitive war is a proportionate response to conditional aggression underscores the traditionalist’s view that self-determination, cultural identity and the like are of sufficient value to defend by means of lethal force. I end the paper by very briefly sketching an account, different from that of Rodin’s, of how individual nations can be justified in waging wars of law enforcement.

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Jacob Blair
California State University, Hayward


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