Rethinking legitimate authority

In Fritz Allhoff, Nicholas Evans & Adam Henschke (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Ethics and War: Just War Theory in the 21st Century. Routledge (2013)
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The just war-criterion of legitimate authority – as it is traditionally framed – restricts the right to wage war to state actors. However, agents engaged in violent conflicts are often sub-state or non-state actors. Former liberation movements and their leaders have in the past become internationally recognized as legitimate political forces and legitimate leaders. But what makes it appropriate to consider particular violent non-state actors to legitimate violent agents and others not? This article will examine four criteria, including ‘popular support and representation of a people’; ‘monopoly of violence and effective control over a people’; ‘compliance with international legal and just war standards’; and ‘predisposition to strive for a lasting peace’. It will be shown that out of these four criteria only the first can be defended. Furthermore, it will be illustrated that non-state violent agents may perfectly well satisfy this criterion. In contrast, state actors may clearly fail in this regard. But, it will also become obvious that in exceptional circumstances violent agents do not require explicit approval from the people on whose behalf they act. Finally, the article will argue that – in principle – individuals should be entitled to employ violence for political objectives.

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Anne Schwenkenbecher
Murdoch University


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