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Radical Philosophy Today

Volume 4, 2006

Philosophy Against Empire

Karsten J. Struhl
Pages 3-25

Can There Be a Just War?

Just war theory distinguishes between jus ad bellum (whether the war itself is just) and jus in bello (whether the conduct of the war is just). I argue, against the traditional view, that modern warfare has made it impossible to separate the two in practice. Specifically, I argue that modern war is a techno-cultural system which requires its participants to violate the primary criterion of jus in bello—noncombatant immunity. From this it follows that even a war of self-defense is not a just war. I consider several challenges to my position: the doctrine of double effect and the claim that noncombatant immunity can be suspended on the basis of military necessity or supreme emergency. I argue that neither of these challenges is acceptable and that to suspend the rule of noncombatant immunity is to suspend the moral point of view. Finally, I consider alternatives which would change the techno-cultural system of modern war.

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