Monday, September 16, 2013

Call for Papers: The Ethics of War in the 21st Century

I got this in an email:

Call for Papers: The Ethics of War in the 21st Century
Inaugural Conference of the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace
24 – 25 May 2014

Preceded by the Wallenberg Lecture on the Ethics of War and Peace, to be delivered by Prof. Jeff McMahan (Rutgers University) at Stockholm University, May 23rd 2014.
Invited Speakers:
Frances Kamm (Harvard)
Seth Lazar (ANU)
Gustaf Arrhenius (Stockholm)
Cheyney Ryan (Oregon and Oxford)
Christopher Heath Wellman (Washington University in St. Louis)
Special Panel on War and International Law
Adil Ahmad Haque (Rutgers)
Fran├žois Tenguay-Renaud (Osgoode Hall Law School, York University)
Massimo Renzo (Warwick)

This conference marks the opening of the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace, which is based in the Philosophy Department at Stockholm University. The Centre is funded by the Wallenberg Foundation and directed by Dr. Helen Frowe. The theme of the inaugural conference will be the Ethics of War in the 21st Century, with an emphasis on how just war theory has evolved since 9/11. The conference will be preceded by a public lecture by Professor Jeff McMahan.

It is intended that there be several sessions for submitted papers. Graduate students are especially encouraged to submit. Two graduate bursaries will be available for the best submitted papers by current graduate students. The bursaries will contribute up to 5000 SEK (about $750) towards travel, and cover meals, accommodation and conference registration.

Papers of no more than 5000 words (exc. references), suitable for a 30 minute presentation, should be submitted to by the 1st of December 2013. Papers that exceed the word limit will not be accepted. Only electronic submissions will be accepted. Papers should include an abstract of no more than 250 words and be prepared for blind review - please include name, affiliation and contact details in the body of the email. Please also indicate in the submission email whether you would be willing to act as a respondent if your paper is not accepted for the conference. There are plans to put together a journal special issue from selected papers. Please indicate in your email whether you would like your paper considered for publication as part of this issue.

Please note that, excluding graduate bursaries, authors of submitted papers are responsible for all their own expenses.

Suggested paper topics include:
Theoretical approaches to just war theory, such as cosmopolitanism, reductivism, collectivism, and pacifism
Humanitarian intervention
Civil war and arming uprisings
Weapons and technology
Terrorism and just war theory
Legitimate authority
The moral status of non-state combatants
War and international law
Conscientious refusal
Preventive war, especially with respect to nuclear proliferation
Any enquiries should be emailed to

Fully-Funded PhD Position in the Ethics of War (Stockholm)

I got this in an email:

Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University

Fully-funded Doctoral Position in Practical Philosophy (Ref. No. SU FV-2582-13)

This is a four year, fully-funded PhD position attached to the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace, which is funded by the Wallenberg Foundation and part of the Philosophy Department at Stockholm University. The successful applicant will undertake a PhD in Philosophy in a topic falling within the Centre’s remit of the ethics of war and peace. This could include (but is not limited to): humanitarian intervention, national-defence, theoretical approaches to war (such as pacifism or collectivism), terrorism, civil war, revolution, war crimes, crimes against humanity, issues within jus ad bellum and jus in bello, the moral status of combatants and non-combatants, war and technology, reconstruction and reconciliation, the notion of ‘just peace’, and legitimate authority. He or she will be co-supervised by Helen Frowe and a suitable member of staff from the Philosophy Department. More information about the Centre can be found here:

The expected starting salary is approx. 23 200 SEK/month (approx. 278 000 SEK / £26 800 / $42 500 / €32 000 a year). This is a pensionable position, subject to the favourable conditions of standard Swedish social benefits, such as paid parental leave. The holder of the position will be expected to conduct research in English. The employment as a Doctoral Student is for four years, with a possibility of prolongation due to special reasons, such as an absence from work due to illness, parental leave, etc. The start date is negotiable, but should be no later than October 2014. For more information and to apply, please visit the Philosophy Department webpage here: . Enquiries should be directed to .

The deadline for applications is the 15th of October, 2013. Stockholm University strives to be a work place that is free from discrimination and with equal opportunities for all.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Quick Thought on Chemical Weapons and "Red Lines"

A question going around the internet these days is "Why are chemical weapons a valid "red line" which we should take action on when the Assad regime crosses it?" (Not that I am yet convinced that Assad has used chemical weapons.) I want offer what I think the answer is to that question. I think there are a lot of poor answers being given and I have a theory as to why good thinkers are deliberately giving bad answers. I will start with what I think the answer is:

Using chemical weapons is seen as wrong because chemical weapons are indiscriminate and behave in such a way that whoever deploys them cannot even pretend that they are only targeting combatants. By nature, chemical weapons (like nuclear and biological weapons) cannot be used with precision. The negative judgments we make about the use of WMDs derive from the same intuition as our judgments about the discrimination consideration in jus in bello. The only difference, I think, is that here any talk about double effect sounds disingenuous because of the nature of the weapon. Therefore when someone employs chemical weapons they are knowingly and deliberately dropping all pretenses that they are only targeting combatants.

Once a combatant is no longer afraid to publicly admit that they are no longer playing by the traditional rules of just war, which they do by employing WMDs (or terror tactics), especially inside one's own borders in a civil war, other countries will rightly become antsy. The international community can no longer turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis under the guise that the only people who were being killed were combatants and collateral damage. The employment of WMDs strips outsiders of their pretext of neutrality. Without such ability to stay neutral, countries of good will cannot say that it is an internal matter that is no harming bystanders, nor can they pretend there will not be third-countries that will not be impacted or worry about being impacted. (It should also force the UN to act under the new R2P regime, but I am pretty sure we won't see that happening.)

Chemical weapons are also almost all used as offensive weapons, which adds another layer to our discomfort. Using an offensive weapons or taking offensive action requires considerably more legal and ethical justification than using defensive weapons or taking defensive action, again, especially in a civil war. Assad has articulated no such justification, nor does anyone think he can. Therefore the international community should rightly worry that Assad is disobeying the international norms of war, which, one might think, is an adequate reason to call it a "red line" which we could expect him not to cross without consequences.

(Some really bad reasons for thinking that chemical weapons should be "red lines" are being offered, often just to dismiss them and "show" that after a bit of thinking there is no justification for taking chemical weapons to be particularly repugnant (the Talking Philosophy blog is particularly bad in this sense). Such silly answers as the reductio ad Hitlerum (Hitler used gas so it is bad) are rightly dismissed. But rarely do we see good reasons adequately discussed. This is the most disingenuous kind of philosophy. The argument is supposed to be: The best reasons don't hold, therefore there is no argument. This is a bad argument because we have no guarantee that we have just heard the only reasons or the best of them. In fact we heard bad ones.)