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Georgetown University


Detailed Course Information


Fall 2017
Nov 24, 2017
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SEST 676 - Ethics of War
“Unleashing the dogs of war” necessarily means using and risking lives as well as changing lives, sometimes forever —the lives of the innocent, of citizens-who-join-the-armed-forces, and sometimes the life of the political community itself and international environment within which political communities live.  
The human toll of war is sometimes staggering.  The American Civil War, for example, had a 2% rate of death.  In today’s world that would mean about six million casualties—and that’s not counting the impact of the war on its military and civilian survivors or on the United States as a nation.  By some estimates, the World War I Battle of the Somme resulted in about 1,000,000 killed and wounded.  Between September 1939 and August 1945, an average of about 27,000 people died each day.  Some survivors, according to historian Max Hastings “found that the manner in which they had conducted themselves during the struggle defined their standing in their societies for the rest of their lives, for good or ill.”  World War II introduced nuclear weapons, included the Holocaust, and set the stage for a Cold War that lasted over half a century.  And these are just “the big wars.”

The post 9/11 wars—in Afghanistan, in Iraq, against Al Qaeda, and now against the Islamic State—have resurrected perennial moral questions:  “When is resort to war justified?”—concerns of jus ad bellum; “How can war be conducted justly?”—matters of jus in bello; and “What is a just end to war?” as well as “What do we as a political community owe those who have fought on our behalf?”—issues of jus post bellum.  

We will take up these questions, others related to them, and the theory of responsibility that underlies them all.  We will use Michael Walzer’s influential book, Just and Unjust Wars, as the base text, but will use others to investigate the theoretical and practical adequacy of Walzer’s framework.  The intent is to come out of the course with an understanding the language and logic of Just War Theory—and how to apply its principles.
Discourse, dialogue, and debate lie at the heart of applying just war theory’s principles, so these describe the methodology for each of our classroom sessions.  Most of the lessons will contain a formal debate; students will be assigned a resolution and a “pro” or “con” position.  Students will argue their positions before the class, and the class will question each debater.  

Other lessons will be seminars and begin with small group discussions on assigned questions; the small group will be followed by student summaries and a general class discussion.  In sum, your participation and energy will be keys to the success of this course.  Whether debate or seminar, you will be asked to participate in serious discussions—about topics relevant to the choices that senior political and military leaders are making right now.  
For example, at various times, the public dialogue in the United States concerning conducting its post 9/11 wars has focused on the justification for the U.S. intervention in Iraq, the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, rendition and secret prisons, interrogation techniques and torture, the use of armed drones as well as their use against American citizens, the complexities of fighting “irregular” wars against non-nation states, the difficulties in distinguishing combatants from noncombatants, crimes committed by U.S. combatants, rules of engagement applied in combat, collateral damage caused by area-effects weapons, and what “proportionality” means in the kinds of wars the nation is fighting.  

These matters all concern the principles governing various aspects of Just War Theory.   An understanding of the framework of this theory, its foundations and principles, and its application, is important not only for those who have to make decisions and fight wars but also for those who send fellow citizens to fight on their behalf.   

The concepts, methods, and tools of war are changing, even as we fight and wage war.  Cyber war and robotization of fighting are but two examples of this change.  War is, once again, being recognized as “more than a true chameleon” as first described by Carl von Clausewitz in On War.  Is Just War Theory up to its task?  We’ll see.

3.000 Credit hours
3.000 Lecture hours

Levels: MN or MC Graduate, Undergraduate
Schedule Types: Seminar

Security Studies Department

Must be enrolled in one of the following Majors:     
      Arab Studies
      Asian Studies
      Eurasian, Russian, E Euro Stud
      Foreign Service
      German and European Studies
      Global Human Development
      Latin American Studies
      Law/Arab Studies
      Law/Foreign Service
      Law/Security Studies
      Security Studies

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Release: 8.7.2