Skepticism about Jus Post Bellum

In Larry May & Andrew Forcehimes (eds.), Morality, Jus Post Bellum, and International Law. Cambridge University Press. pp. 204-222 (2012)
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The burgeoning literature on jus post bellum has repeatedly reaffirmed three positions that strike me as deeply implausible: that in the aftermath of wars, compensation should be a priority; that we should likewise prioritize punishing political leaders and war criminals even in the absence of legitimate multilateral institutions; and that when states justifiably launch armed humanitarian interventions, they become responsible for reconstructing the states into which they have intervened – the so called “Pottery Barn” dictum, “You break it, you own it.” Against these common positions, this chapter argues that compensation should be subordinate to reconstruction, with resources going where they are most needed and can do the most good, rather than to the most aggrieved. Just punishment, meanwhile, presupposes just multilateral institutions – the victor cannot be trusted to mete out punishment fairly. And just interveners, who have already taken on such a heavy burden, are entitled to expect the international community to contribute to reconstruction after they have made the first and vital steps. After presenting each of these objections in greater depth, the chapter proceeds to draw some tentative inferences from the threads running through each, and suggest that they illustrate a distinctive flaw in the way in which jus post bellum is addressed by many just war theorists, who not only see the war as the grounds of post bellum duties, but also take it to specify their content: Specifically, they take the rights violations with which wars are imbued to be the basis for post-war action, but take the content of post-war duties to be focused on rectifying those rights violations, rather than the more forward-looking goal of establishing a lasting peace. This backward-looking orientation unduly confines these theorists to making attributions of fault, to a limited palette of normative concepts, and to a focus on the belligerents rather than the international community as a whole. Undoubtedly warfare creates a distinctive normative relationship between belligerent states (though we must question how much of this devolves to the citizens of those states). War does generate grounds for post-war duties – but there are other grounds for those duties too, moreover the grounds should not determine the content. It of course matters that the citizens of two states harmed one another in violation of their rights. But when the war is done, peacebuilding should be the priority, not raking over the wrongs of both sides. Sections 2–4 present the objections, Section 5 offers the tentative analysis and proposes a shift in focus toward an ethics of peacebuilding, and Section 6 concludes.

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Seth Lazar
Australian National University


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