Conspiring with the Enemy: The Ethic of Cooperation in Warfare

New York, NY, USA: Columbia University Press (2019)
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*North American Society for Social Philosophy (NASSP) Book Award 2019.* *International Studies Association (ISA) - International Ethics Section Book Award 2021.* Although military mores have relied primarily on just war theory, the ethic of cooperation in warfare (ECW)—between enemies even as they are trying to kill each other—is as central to the practice of warfare and to conceptualization of its morality. Neither game theory nor unilateral moral duties (God-given or otherwise) can explain the explicit language of cooperation in developing and enforcing principles of military ethics and the law of armed conflict. The ethic of cooperation is borne of various motivations: reciprocity, self-preservation, and efficiency, to be sure, but also a sense of warrior honor and concern with human rights. This shared morality can persist despite making it more difficult for one side or the other to win and, unfortunately, its well-meaning motivations often lead to unintended tragic consequences. This book explores three manifestations of this significant yet overlooked ethic of cooperation in warfare: (1) for a “fair fight,” (2) to protect classes of individuals (e.g., non-combatants or prisoners of war), and (3) to end the war quickly. Such cooperation can take unexpected forms, from ad hoc decisions on the battlefield to institutionalization in international law, and is the source of some critical tensions in one of the most significant developments in warfare in recent years: namely, how to handle terrorism or other forms of warfare that lie outside the purview of international law. Each type of ECW raises questions internal to that ethic, such as inconsistencies in the concept of “parity” across different weapons bans, contradictions within the warrior ethic that heavily influence—and therefore confuse—notions of the “fair fight,” the disconnect between what protections a person receives and his responsibility for the war (e.g., political leaders), or the limited decisiveness of outcomes generated by very short wars. Their simultaneous application also generates significant tensions and raises questions about the proper relationship of ECW to the immediate goal of war itself, which is to win, and thus yield either a political settlement or a justicial decision. For example, the ECWs for a “fair fight” and to protect classes of individuals can make it harder to win the war, but even more concerning is that they can also kill more people, which in the latter case contravenes its very purpose. Human history is in some ways the story of trying to concurrently wage and tame war, and the architecture of warfare itself is informed by the ECW, in particular: (a) the political nature of war, (b) the abdication from jus ad bellum judgments in order to concentrate on justice within war (jus in bello), and (c) the ways in which modern nation-states collude to define “legitimacy” in war. The combination of these three features leave questions of justicial right and responsibility for war disturbingly unresolved, it also generates new challenges in a geopolitical context in which cooperative and non-cooperative (e.g. contemporary terrorism) forms of warfare clash.

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Yvonne Chiu
U.S. Naval War College


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