#METC: Moral Dilemmas

First things first: you all did a great job kicking off #METC with some seriously thoughtful and interesting exchanges on the professional military ethic. Very impressive stuff! Next up: moral dilemmas.

The readings are tougher to find, so I’ll do a little more summary than with some of the other sessions. The topic for the next three days is moral dilemmas: What do you do when you’re confronted with a situation that doesn’t appear to have a clear, morally correct response? Rushworth M. Kidder has written a great introductory book called How Good People Make Tough Choices that focuses on this question.

The most important thing to remember is that the overwhelmingly majority of the moral questions we face in life are not moral dilemmas; they are moral temptations. That is to say, we know (or can find) the right thing to do in a situation, but out of greed, fear, fatigue, etc. we simply don’t want to do it. Instead, we try to rationalize choosing the wrong course of action.

This is a key point in moral decision making: when you’re confronted with a moral choice you have the opportunity to reflect on, ask yourself how you’re thinking about the issue:

  • are you reasoning through the moral question: looking at the consequences of the different options you possess for the different morally relevant actors involved (not just the effect on you and your unit) and the values and principles that will be affirmed or undermined by choosing the different options, or
  • are you rationalizing the question: typically, trying to benefit yourself at the expense of others, trying to protect yourself from perceived harm, or trying to relieve the pressure of a stressful situation?

If you’re reasoning through a situation and can’t find a satisfactory resolution, you may be facing a true moral dilemma. If you’re trying to find a way to justify the thing you want to do anyway, you’re probably facing moral temptation. (In seminar, I would make a very heavy handed crack about only the weak and undisciplined succumbing to temptation, which strong, disciplined Marines would never allow. Everyone would laugh, then we’d go on to discuss precisely how easy it is to fall into the trap – a core element of our next few sessions.)

How do you characterize moral dilemmas? Kidder identifies four types – dilemmas that pit core social values against each other (What he calls “Right vs Right” dilemmas):

  • Truth vs Loyalty
  • Individual vs Community
  • Short-term vs Long-term
  • Justice vs Mercy

All eight of these are core values that are critical to the strength and preservation of society – they are moral. People always like to quibble with Kidder’s dilemmas; they find a fifth dilemma or don’t think he’s got them sorted correctly. That’s fine. The important take-away is that we have core social values that strengthen that community that sometimes come into conflict. We also can be motivated to try to twist our personal desires to fit these values in an effort to justify moral temptation.

For example, when the Mental Health Advisory Team’s Report, MHAT IV was released in November 2006, fewer than half of the Marines surveyed indicated they would report a unit member for injuring or killing a non-combatant, disobeying general orders, or violating ROE. They chose loyalty to their fellow Marines ahead of truth. While fidelity is essential to the Marine Corps ethos and combat effectiveness, Marines have an even more foundational loyalty to the Corps and the American people, which requires maintaining discipline and accountability in units tied to American values and the rule of law (which you all know from our previous session on the professional military ethic!).

The case study assigned for this session illustrates the dangerous road units can go down when these elements of discipline and accountability come unmoored from social values and legal restraints. Refusing to report or covering up battlefield violations is an illustration of misplaced loyalty.

This question of reporting battlefield infractions also illustrates Kidder’s other dilemmas: a Marine doesn’t want his buddy to be punished for his actions, but a lack of discipline and accountability harms the entire unit (the Individual vs the Collective). Likewise, Marines who ignore battlefield infractions often think they’re protecting their fellow Marines (choosing Mercy over Justice). Unfortunately, we know that accountability to key to overcoming moral failing, so by not reporting, Marines are robbing the people they’re trying to protect of the ability to redeem themselves. The ‘mercy’ they have chosen at the expense of justice isn’t actually merciful.

The key to resolving this moral temptation masquerading as moral dilemma is to help Marines in situations of significant stress recognize the difference between the two sorts of moral choices. That’s what we’ll be doing the rest of this week. Later we’ll talk about different approaches to overcoming temptation and resolving dilemmas and how you can prepare those you lead to do the same.

In this section on Moral Dilemmas we’ll also discuss what Michael Walzer defines as the ‘Dirty Hands’ phenomenon – or when individuals are forced to chose among a collection of morally bad options. If the overwhelming majority of moral choices are “Right vs Wrong” choices (and moral temptation is choosing the ‘Wrong’ option), and moral dilemmas as Kidder defines them are far rarer “Right vs Right” choices, then Walzer explores the exceptionally rare set of “Wrong vs Wrong” choices.

I’ll write a separate post on this sort of moral dilemma tomorrow or Saturday. I have a hunch this is where folks will want to spend all their time, but it is the rarest of all the moral choices we face in life and a moral temptation in its own right (I couldn’t help but do this terrible thing; I had to prevent this other terrible thing! I know there are moral boundaries I’m about to transgress, but I’m good and sincere, so I should be able to ignore them while other people should be made to follow them!). Let’s get our feet under us on the more common forms of moral temptation and dilemmas we face, then we can think about when we find ourselves in morally tragic situations (where there are no good moral choices) and how we can respond.


#METC: The Professional Military Ethic

For the next three days we’ll be looking at the concept of the professional military ethic. A couple of concepts to clarify first (and remember, I’m not looking to make you all professional ethicists, so I’m giving you ‘back of the envelope’ definitions that are more likely to stick in your head. The philosophy PhDs may not like them; they should feel free to discuss on twitter).

Moral: That which strengthens the community and binds it together. While there are some true hermits in the world, humans are inherently social creatures. Morality is concerned with the health of our social world. Acts are moral when they strengthen our social world, immoral when they corrode it, and amoral when they are unrelated to the health of our social world (all those avocados I ate this weekend, or the fact that some knucklehead installed my cable to come out of the floor instead of the wall are examples of amoral actions).

Ethics: Technically, ethics is the study of morality. It also refers to that which maintains the standards of a profession – in our case, the profession of arms. The Army has a great White Paper on the Profession of Arms that lays out the contours of the military profession. Don Snider has also written extensively on the topic. We’ll discuss in far greater detail the next three days, but in a nutshell, professional ethics pertains to the acquisition, certification and maintenance of specialized expertise on behalf of a client (in the military profession, this is the constitution, as embodied by the American people). The inherent logic of a profession is effectiveness, not efficiency – a trait that sparks real angst in the midst of the current budget crisis.[1]

Boundaries of the Profession of Arms

I’ve pulled together the defining characteristics of the military profession and military professional from the Army’s White Paper on the Profession of Arms to give a quick outline of the boundaries of the profession (the definitions in the footnotes come from the document; I haven’t cited precisely). This will frame the responsibilities, expectations, and obligations we’ll explore over the next five weeks. We can discuss if you’re interested, but this also provides a useful frame of reference when discussing professionalization in FID or Security Cooperation programs. We hold our military to an incredibly high standard; the bar is far lower in some countries.

Expertise[2] Skill
Trust[3] Trust
Development[4] Leadership
Values[5] Character
Service[6] Duty

I’d also commend the talk by Dick Kohn at the Naval War College’s Annual Ethics Conference last February. Regardless of whether you agree with Dr. Kohn completely (and sorry it’s just a recording of a speech; not super exciting!), he lays out some some foundational issues in the profession.

I’ll tweet some questions after lunch, but feel free to start tweeting any questions you have from the readings or points you’d like to make sure we cover. Remember the hash tag so I’ll catch them when I get back to the computer.

Here we go!

[1] Snider argues that the U.S. military is also a bureaucracy (a reality confirmed by anyone who spends any real time with the military!)

[2] The Profession of Arms requires expert knowledge (i.e. expertise), and that expertise is

manifested as unique skills in the individual professional and by Army units.

[3] The profession exists only through a relationship of trust with the client; and that trust is the same trust that enables the individual Soldier to develop within the Army as a profession, for Soldiers and units to bond, for Soldiers‘ families to trust the Army through myriad deployments, and for Army leaders to engage effectively in civil-military relations. In fact, that is why trust is clearly the most important attribute we seek for the Army. It is equally applicable and important in its simplest form to both profession and professional. It is our lifeblood.

[4] To maintain that trust, the profession requires the continuous development of human practitioners, (i.e. experts) who hold high levels of knowledge, adaptability, resilience, and other attributes that make them effective members of the Profession of Arms. That development is manifested in leadership by professionals at all ranks.

[5] The profession requires unwavering, deeply held values on which to base its Ethic. Those values, when well internalized, are manifested in the character of individual professionals. Such strength of character would include internalization of the Army values and ethos amongst other aspects of the Ethic.

[6] Finally the profession provides a vital service to American society and does so in subordination. That service is manifested in the duty of the individual professional.

Welcome to Military Ethics Twitter Course #METC!

#METC starts tomorrow, so I wanted to lay out how I see this working, as well as the general approach we’ll take over the next five weeks. First things first, several of you listed your learning objectives for the course. We will explore some of those questions directly; others could serve as topics for future #METCs if our experiment bears fruit.

My objectives for the course are the following:

  1. to help you develop a deeper familiarity with some of the core concepts and debates within the field of military ethics;
  2. to help you identify strong sources and rigorous approaches to moral reasoning so you can continue your study and analysis after we’re done; and,
  3. to learn how we can better engage on issues related to military ethics in this particular medium.

I heard from a number of people who think twitter is either an inappropriate or insufficient venue to discuss ethics and morality. I disagree, but certainly there are more and less effective ways to do it. Hopefully the next five weeks can help us learn how to better discuss issues related to military ethics without recourse to platitudes or fear mongering.

This means a few things for how I’ll engage #METC:

First, I’ll intentionally take positions I disagree with to push the conversation. I’ll also take starker positions than I’m personally comfortable with in order to clarify the boundaries or implications of an issue. #METC isn’t about where I come down on these questions; it’s about helping you figure out where you come down. I can do that better by focusing on clarity, sometimes at the expense of nuance and candor. If you’re ever interested in my own position on something, just ask.

Second, thoughtful, well-intentioned people can disagree. There are some clear red lines in military ethics, but there are also a significant number of choices that come down to judgment; that is to say there are multiple morally defensible choices (or, unfortunately, no morally defensible choice, only multiple indefensible choices of varying types). Since our goal is learning, you should focus your effort on how you justify your arguments or why you find some arguments more persuasive than others. If you were in the hot seat, asked to make a call, then you’d be judged on your ability to make a choice and carry it out. Here we have the luxury of focusing on why we would make particular choices over others. We won’t all agree. That’s life. It is cause for neither concern nor disrespect.

Third, there are plenty of topics we won’t cover in this #METC. I’m simply mirroring the elective I teach at the Command and Staff College. There are topics we should include in a thorough Military Ethics Course (the Just War Tradition) that we won’t cover here for the simple reason that they’re included in our core curriculum. I’ll keep a running list of topics you’re interested in if we decide we’d like more #METCs at a later date.

Now some nuts and bolts:

  • I’ll post a quick overview of the day’s topic at some point on the first day, ideally before lunch.
  • I’ve got a series of questions that I’ll tweet with the #METC hashtag starting that evening. You all can engage those questions and each other (use the hashtag!) or you can ask me questions directly. I have more time in the evenings, so you may have to wait a little bit for a response, but I’ll get there!
  • I’ll work to storify conversations as they come together. If something needs a longer response, I also might blog a longer post, though I really want to see if we can keep this predominantly twitter-centric.

Want to ease yourself in? Here’s the Army’s Ethic (though we’ll look at more than battlefield ethics). If you’re really looking to geek out, the Naval War College has their very own YouTube page where they post talks. You can find the 2011 Ethics Conference and the 2012 Ethics Conference. I’ll link specific talks relevant to the topics we cover as we go, but now you have the whole shootin’ match. The Naval Academy also posts their lectures on-line. Enjoy!

Military Ethics Twitter Course

We’re getting ready to start our electives period at the Command and Staff College, where I have the good fortune of teaching 17 Majors, Lieutenant Commanders, and GS-14s about military ethics. The course runs 10 sessions over five weeks, and as I’ve been preparing I had one of those ‘flash of the obvious’ moments:

I love teaching. I love military ethics. I love twitter.

Would it be possible to combine the three? I honestly don’t know, but I figure we might as well take a crack at it.

Here’s what I propose:

  1. You can see a readings list at Twitter Military Ethics Course. Google around and you can find most of them. If you have better ideas for readings, videos, etc., lemme know and I’ll update. Nothing like crowd sourcing learning!
  2. I intend to loosely mirror the same pace as my seminar course, which means we’ll cover 2 topics per week.  Unlike seminar, we’re not constrained by a two-hour window. We’ll have roughly 3 days to develop our thoughts (in 140 character chunks!).
  3. All are welcome. Come and go as you please.
  4. I’ll post a brief backgrounder on this blog at the start of each topic to kick things off. Then I’ll tweet specific learning points and questions with the hashtag #METC. All you need to do is follow along and ask me questions or give your thoughts on the questions I ask. Just make sure to use the hashtag #METC so everyone catches it. I’ll do my best to storify conversation threads as we go.
  5. Since I’ve never done this before, I expect there will be a pretty sharp learning curve. Apologies in advance for whatever I mess up; please let me know how I can help make it more productive for you! Always remember: you get what you pay for.
  6. There will be an honor grad. There will be an honor grad prize. That is all I have decided so far.

Any questions? Hit me up at @johnsonr. Here are the general windows for each topic:

Class 1: Introduction to Professional Military Ethics   (January 21-23, 2013)

Class 2: Moral Dilemmas   (January 24-26, 2013)

Class 3: Motivating Moral Behavior   (January 28-30, 2013)

Class 4: Setting the Command Climate   (January 31-February 2, 2013)

Class 5: Moral Development   (February 4-6, 2013)

Class 6: Targeted Killings   (February 7-9, 2013)

Class 7: Emerging Issues – Unmanned Systems   (February 11-13, 2013)

Class 8: The Stoic Warrior   (February 14-16, 2013)

Class 9: Responding to the Command Climate   (February 18-20, 2013)

Class 10: Ethical Fitness   (February 21-23, 2013)

February 25, 2013   GRADUATION!!!           

Smell Test for chapter on ethics of drones in COIN

Here’s the abstract for a chapter I’m writing on the ethics of drones in counterinsurgency. What say the twittersphere? Am I on the right track? Have I ignored something massive? Speak now! (And thank you!)

What side will I come down on? Guess you’ll just have to stay tuned….

“The Wizard of Oz Goes to War: Unmanned Systems in Counterinsurgency”

The military has witnessed the convergence of two disparate trends over the past decade – a resurgence of population-centric warfare and the proliferation of unmanned systems. The combination of these two trends has created a counterinsurgency environment where the population has become an inextricable part of the battlespace at precisely the same time that the warfighter is becoming increasingly protected from the threats and dangers of war. This inversion of the norm of noncombatant immunity seemly discredits the ethical use of unmanned systems. This chapter will explore the question of whether unmanned systems have a defensible place in counterinsurgency operations. It argues that to the extent they enable service members to discriminate and target belligerents with greater accuracy; free them to focus on building relationships rather than provide security; and therefore support, rather than replace service members in the battlespace, they reinforce traditional efforts to protect civilians from the horrors of war. To the extent unmanned systems are used in order to reduce the presence of U.S. service members while increasing the lethality of combat, they subvert the intention that underlies noncombatant immunity and proportionality of means.

Some thoughts

ROUGH cut of a talk I’ll be giving soon. Anyone with the time and inclination: I’d love feedback. Am I hitting at anything interesting, or do I need to rethink?


How does the purported ‘hybridization’ of threat influence our understanding of when the use of force is justified? Since it’s not enough to have a legitimate reason to fight, I’ll also address how this idea of hybrid threat and warfare influences other aspects of the just war calculation of when war is legitimate.

This is an important question because while there might be tactical significance to hybrid war, it becomes supremely significant if facing a diversification of threats also changes what we would classify as those vital national interests justifying military defense. If it also changes our understanding of when the application of military force may credibly be seen as a ‘last resort’ or whether the harm of war may outweigh its benefit, then we could be witnessing a real change in when and why the United States fights wars.

I’ll tip my hand at the outset – I’m not a fan of the hybrid war concept. I’m not sure how the adjectives gives us any appreciable analytical insight. At the same time, it’s undeniable that it has shaped strategic policymakers’ thinking about US national security as reflected in the 2010 QDR, 2010 NSS, and 2012 DSG.

What I’ll do is take a few minutes and tease out how I see the hybrid warfare concept influencing US national security strategy. Then I’ll talk about how this may influence some of our traditional calculations of when the United States may legitimately fights wars. Finally, I’ll provide some tentative conclusions for what this might mean in terms of our leaning into or away from armed conflict over the next few years.

So, what is hybrid warfare and how do we see it reflected in current national level strategic guidance?

To quote from a GAO study conducted in 2010 by the GAO for the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities, “DOD officials use the term ‘hybrid’ to describe the increasing complexity of conflict that will require a highly adaptable and resilient response from U.S. Forces, and not to articulate a new form of warfare.”

The NATO Military Working Group for Strategic Planning and Concepts has defined hybrid threat as “one posed by any current or potential adversary, including state, non-state, and terrorists, with the ability, whether demonstrate or likely, to simultaneously employ conventional and non conventional means adaptively, in pursuit of their objectives.”

This terminology has not been picked up in US doctrine, thought TRADOC’s most recent Operational Environment 2009-2025 discusses hybrid threats in the context of enemies “using an ever-changing variety of conventional (in terms of arms, equipment, and formations) and unconventional (specially equipped and organized) tactics to create multiple dilemmas.”

There are some clear implications for how we might fight hybrid wars, but there are also implications for when we may fight them.

The National Security Strategy 2010 lays out America’s foundational national interests:
• Security of the US, its citizens, and US allies and partners;
• A strong, innovative, and growing US economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunity and prosperity;
• Respect for universal values at home and around the world; and
• An international order advanced by US leadership that promotes peace, security, and opportunity through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges.

It is in defining these core national interests that the National Security strategy identifies hybrid threats that may undermine US interests – not just AQ and violent extremists, but also nuclear terrorism, cyber vulnerabilities, and threats to the international financial system.

The document speaks directly to when force becomes a viable option, identifying that force “may be necessary to defend our country and allies or to preserve broader peace.” The document further argues that the United States “will exhaust other options before war whenever we can, and carefully weigh the costs and risks of action against the costs and risks of inaction.”

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review also looks at the question of hybrid threats, …

Finally, this past January, the Defense Strategic Guidance clearly noted ….

Arguably, what we’re seeing isn’t a new form of warfare, but it may be a reclassification of what policymakers identify as our ‘vital national interests’, defined as those interests “where serious harm to the nation would result unless strong measures, including the use of force, are employed to protect” them. Remembering that the use of force in defense of vital national interests is permitted, not necessarily required.

Within the Just War Context, this would be identified as ‘Just Cause’, which is essential to, but not exhaustive of the conditions required to justify the use of force. What I’m going to do is walk through the seven Jus Ad Bellum conditions and provide some thoughts on how these identified threats and our ability to respond to them blend with existing conceptions of when it’s legitimate for the United States to fight.

How Changing Vital National Interests Influences Justifications for War

There are seven basic tenets that shape our understanding of when it’s legitimate for states to fight wars. There are those who would argue that these conditions are less constraints on action than they are the components of a strategic communication campaign. I understand that argument, but I don’t find it ultimately persuasive. Successive American administrations demonstrate a real commitment to harnassing any potential military action to these criteria – just look at President Bush’s addresses to the nation in October 2001 and March 2003, and the 2010 NSS, which dedicated a full page the explaining the administration’s understanding of the just war framework and went further to assert that the United States’ moral leadership serves as an essential cornerstone to the nation’s security.

You can claim these attempts to harmonize US actions with just war principles is disingenuous. I find it more likely that these criteria resonate with the American people and its political leaders; it’s important to us as a nation to fight only just wars; and that we do in fact reject military operations that don’t meet these criteria.

The first criterion I’ll discuss is Just Cause: Threats to the conditions of life and fundamental well being of the community. While historically ‘just cause’ included righting an injustice, punishing wrongdoers, and defending God’s good order, in the modern period we have restrained just cause to territorial defense or – under UN leadership – the collective maintenance and restoration of international peace and security (Ch7, Art 51)

You guys know the Stuxnet attack that sabotaged Iran’s nuclear weapons program, potentially stalling Iran’s nuclear development by years? It was a worm, likely introduced through malicious code in Siemans’ equipment and software, clearly developed for the purpose of disabling Iran’s nuclear development program. If Iran could ID the state responsible, could it use lethal force self-defense?

Is there any distinction between this attack and when Israel simply bombed the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981? Not that Israel is responsible for Stuxnet; we don’t have any proof of that – the question is simply how we see the different between dropping bombs (when Osirak was closed for the weekend, so no collateral damage) and infecting a system with a worm. Are both acts of war? What if it had been proven that the IL water treatment plant that was hacked last November had been shut down by Russia, as was originally alleged? How would we think if another state used a similar worm to shut down US refineries? All power plants on the Eastern Seaboard? Would these be threats to the conditions of life and fundamental well-being of the United States?

The DSG made clear both that it is in the US national interest to protect freedom of access to the global commons – including cyber – and that protecting the homeland is one of the most important functions of the state.

The Cyber Strategy from last summer indicates, “The Department will work with interagency and international partners to encourage responsible behavior and oppose those who would seek to disrupt networks and systems, dissuade and deter malicious actors, and reserve the right to defend these vital national assets as necessary and appropriate.”

This comes down to the question of ‘equivalence’ – if a cyberattack produces a level of harm equivalent to that of a traditional military attack, it can be considered to be an act of war, potentially justifying military retaliation. To be clear, that’s not a given, but it’s a possibility that has – as yet – been off the table. The administration argues that 60% of small firms that are hacked go broke. Coupling that with the NSS’s commitment to strengthening America’s economic foundation as core pillar of US power, at what point does sheer economic harm constitute a just cause for war?

What else?

Legitimate Authority: The person authorizing the war must be a responsible representative of a sovereign political body – heads of state. Collectively, this can also be the United Nations under their Chapter 7 authority.

What about regional orgs?

Finally, under legitimate authority, we have the question of whether or which non-state actors may possess a legitimate foundation to resort to violence in pursuit of their ends. The question of insurgencies has been fairly well settled through the two additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions in 1977 – which is to say that international society accepts that insurgents / independence movements can legitimately wage war against an unjust de jure sovereign, provided they can demonstrate de facto sovereignty among the population they are fighting for. Providing military support to these groups is one of the core missions of Special Forces.

The Arab Spring raises the salience of our understanding of this aspect of legitimate authority. We’ll know more about Egypt’s consolidation following presidential elections next month, but the fact of tension b/t SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) and the Muslim Brotherhood (Freedom and Justice Party) doesn’t demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to govern – only that multiple groups have the will to govern and disagree on how. Part of the tension arises from the process of conferring popular sovereignty to these groups.

The TNC (Transitional National Council) in Libya is a different question entirely. We provided no military support to Mubarak’s ouster in Egypt for clear political reasons. We did provide military support to the Libyan rebels to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. It is supremely questionable whether the TNC has the authority and means to consolidate power and provide security, political stability, and the means for economic prosperity for Libya. It says a lot about where we view the bar for legitimate authority that we provided military support for their efforts.

Let me push this for a minute b/c the clear rejoinder would be to argue that we weren’t recognizing the rebels’ legitimate authority; we were assisting France and hoping to topple Gaddafi. I’m not going to argue against either goal. I’m a fan of both. But we know the significance of precedence in the international system, and it’s short-sighted to argue that our actions don’t read back into who we characterize as having the ability to wage war against a recognized sovereign. To the extent it meets our purposes, it’s unproblematic. To the extent a similar uprising undermines US interests in a different context, it becomes highly concerning.

[Syria: Bashar Assad and Free Syrian Army]

Right Intention: When we’re talking about going to war, our intention can only be to bring about or restore the conditions for human life and well being. It cannot be the destruction of our enemies, economic benefit, or territorial aggrandizement. And you’ll note I’m talking about intention – the state of affairs you’re trying to bring about – not motive – the reason you’re doing what you’re doing. For international ethics intentions are key; motives are irrelevant.

I don’t identify any real change here, but right intention can explain some of the pressure felt within the administration to ‘do something’ in areas like Syria, where there is clearly no group with the ability to govern effectively in the absence of the regime. Assad possesses the capacity to provide security, political stability, and the conditions of economic wellbeing for his people; he simply lacks the will. The Free Syrian Army possesses the will, but lacks the capacity. The impulse of some in the country today is to use US military power to help restore the conditions of life and well-being for the people of Syria. It was the same impulse we see typically in humanitarian operations. There is nothing wrong with that impulse and it sits squarely within our well-established Wilsonian tradition. At the same time, within the context of the Just War framework, it cannot trump the other requirements of legitimate authority, proportionality of ends, etc.

The last thing I’ll note here with right intention before moving on, is that this requirement may push back some on the DSG’s argument that “US forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.” My students are highly skeptical of this assertion, and the right intention criterion would be as well. The main argument of Fred Ikle’s Every War Must End is the critique that states enter wars without thinking about how they’re going to get out of them. There’s an enter body of just war thinking related to jus post bellum or the just cessation of conflict. All I’ll say here is that if the only right intention for fighting a war is to re-create the conditions for life and well-being of the community, then you have to stay until those conditions are created. Large-scale stability operations may be a necessary component of that process.

Reasonable Change of Success: Doesn’t override one’s own right to self-defense. While this may seem traditionally like a fairly straightforward calculation for a superpower, in the context of hybrid threats, it’s actually a very high bar. It requires an exceptionally high intelligence requirement to understand the asymmetric capabilities and likely actions of an enemy; even then, given the highly complex nature of hybrid war, the risk calculations will be murky at best.

Second, we have unparalleled ability to impose our military will on states; as the weekend attacks in Kabul demonstrate, we have a far degraded ability to infuse our political will into our allies or to impose military will on non-state actors. To be clear – the attacks were largely fruitless and the ANSF performed well – I don’t see this as being the Tet moment that some have argued. But it does highlight the difficulty of fighting unconventional wars, especially when those wars must be fought predominantly by host national representatives. The reasonable chance of success criterion would argue against the US becoming involved in those military engagements where we cannot predict with some confidence that we will be able to secure our national interests in this context. (Again, outside a clear self-defense action).

Finally, today this calculation must be made within the reality of the current budget environment and the effects that will have to the force in the years to come. I’m speculating, but I would suggest that the combination of the analytical complexity and the fiscal austerity combine to help explain my previous point about a reduction in large-scale stability operations. Arguing a reasonable chance for success within those parameters can be incredibly challenging.

Proportionality of Ends: The good to come of the war must outweigh the harm of the war. We know wars are horribly costly, not just in terms of dollars, but significantly in terms of lives and livelihoods. If the overall cost of victory is greater than the good to come of victory, you ought not fight. You should resort to diplomatic or economic means to preserve the threatened interest, even if the interest is somewhat compromised.

We’re witnessing sharp debate within the administration on this point right now with respect to Iran. Iran’s clear efforts to build nuclear capability and stated intent to harm the United States constitute a reasonable threat to our vital national interests. A war with Iran today would be costly. I don’t have access to the information I would need to calculate whether the overall costs of war today outweighs the benefit to our national security that would come from preventing Iran’s nuclearization. What I do know is that the calculation of the harm of war with Iran changes by orders of magnitude were Iran to acquire nuclear capability. It becomes much easier to argue against war with a nuclear Iran precisely because the costs of that war will be so much higher.

This calculation of proportionality of ends also feeds into the next component of the just resort to force:

Last Resort: Doesn’t mean you have to literally try everything else first. (Afghanistan). Israel used this view of last resort to justify its preemptive attack against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six Day War. The threat was imminent – they knew Egyptian troops had mobilized and were days from attack; and they knew that they needed the advantage of surprise to have any hope of winning. The question in our context is how one defines ‘imminent’ – it was hotly contested following the 2002 NSS, when the Bush administration articulated what had been our longstanding – if unspoken – belief in the right to preemption. I’m not going to defend a particular position on this, but it’s easy to see how one’s calculation of proportionality of ends can read onto policy makers’ understanding of last resort.

Preemption vs Prevention (can’t trade a certain evil for a possible good)

Balance of Justice: The final condition for the just resort to war is the balance of justice. The argument here is that most countries go to war believing they have justice on their side. The just statesman, however, takes a larger view and evaluates the injustices his country has suffered against the purported injustices of the adversary. If his adversary has suffered a greater injustice, the statesman should pursue other means to secure his interests.

This can actually be interesting in the context of hybrid warfare. Typically balance of justice is ignored for (1) being impossible to really determine, and (2) being insignificant relative to national interests. I would argue there are reasons to take it seriously in the current environment:

First, it is consistent with this president’s attention to global moral leadership, both in terms of leading by example, and in terms of promoting a just and sustainable international order.

Second, and for the policymaker, perhaps most importantly – this criteria introduces real flexibility into America’s actions abroad. If we recognize real collective interests that require coordinated responses — protection of the global commons; environmental protection and shepherding of natural resources; global health; counter-proliferation; etc. – then it makes good sense to calculate the balance of justice (or balance of grievance) when determining how to engage potentially hostile actors. Particularly in an austere fiscal environment, it can be much cheaper to address the core grievances of a potential adversary than it could be to fight them. Paying attention to the balance of justice places our efforts to secure our national interests into a larger context that includes other international actors and may give us better leverage than provided by an exclusively US-centric view.


So, what does all this mean? There are some trends that make the use of force more likely under these criteria:
• The pluralization of vital national interests to include cybersecurity and arguably access to the global commons legitimates the use of force in response to a larger number of threats;
• The pluralization of legitimate authority to perhaps include regional organizations and non-state actors who possess the will but not the capacity to govern opens the door for the United States to be called more often to assist in efforts at national liberation.
• Potentially the connection between proportionality of ends and last resort may create conditions that argue in favor of preventive wars to minimize the harm of a certain evil.
At the same time, there are trends that constrict the use of force:
• It becomes increasingly difficult to calculate whether the United States can credibly claim to have a reasonable chance of success in certain asymmetric conflicts. The probability of success in a partnering relationship is also generally lower than when the United States fights alone or in a coalition arrangement.
• In an austere fiscal environment, resource restraints – both current and future – must be read into our calculations of reasonable chance for success.
• The financial costs of war today must also be read into our evaluation of proportionality of ends. While I argued this might incline policymakers toward preemption; it could also incline them away from force altogether.
• This could be particularly true when combined with the balance of justice, which broadens the policymakers’ aperture beyond exclusively US national interests and challenges them to consider the interests and calculations of their potential adversaries. Doing this may uncover alternate approaches that may reasonably secure our interests at acceptably lower costs.

Policymakers will apply their specific judgments how they will; the usefulness of the just war framework as applied to contemporary security strategy is that it gives good depth and dimensionality to how we think about when it would be appropriate to use force. It takes us out of a purely reactive cycle, and is in keeping with a longstanding American tradition of demonstrating restraint in the resort to war.

@HerbCarmen Lays down the TwitterFightClub Law.

Rebecca posted her grading guidelines for Twitter Fight Club here Friday, and I thought it was a great idea.  Upon reading them it only seems fair that I post my own.  So here they are:

  1. It’s all about the Tweets.  It is the Twitterverse: content, ideas, and humor in 140 characters or less.  “Faster, funnier” is better.  When using links, don’t expect me to read 3,000 words in a 3,000-word blog post.
  2. Politics.  I choose to stay apolitical.  Politics won’t affect my decisions, unless views are baseless, absurd, or a violation of DoD directives.
  3. Academics.  The only person with a PhD who I never question, I married.  Here’s the rub: with several professors and PhDs on her side of the family, I know too much.  Sorry, Doc.
  4. Veterans and military.  Going on 22 years and just back from deployment, I empathize.  But it’s a two-edged sword because I know enough to see deep into your soul.  If you’re currently serving, see # 2 above.  Don’t be “that guy”.
  5. Put forth solid arguments.  Recent, hands-got-dirty experience helps, but if the logic isn’t solid, forget about it—even if you’re the spawn of Sun Tzu raised by Taliban in Gaza. Or Gary Faulkner.
  6. I like sports. Baseball, basketball, and NASCAR.  They’re just sports.  Sports tweets are free and ungraded; if you’re a Cubs, Navy, Hoyas, and/or Tony Stewart fan, perhaps extra credit.
  7. National security is serious business.  Contribute.  “Survive and Advance.”

Good luck!


TWITTERFIGHTCLUB!!!! You want my vote? Look Sharp.

I know what you’re thinking: “She has a blog?” Well, not really. This is more an intention than a practice. But it’s a good place to post my Guidelines for TwitterFightClub 2012.  ‘Cuz I’m a prof, and well, it’s just not fair to grade someone without letting them know your standards.

So here they are:

  1. Victory = Quality (Significance + Insight + Originality).  Elegance and Humor come next. Don’t bother grading my tweets by this scale; I invert on purpose.
  2. No veteran’s preference here. I love my constitution and I love those who bust their asses to support and defend it. Your service earns you a beer, not my vote. (I get all moto on twitter, so not dissing the folks who wear PJs to work, just reassuring those who don’t).
  3. Ditto on political orientation. I don’t care if you’re conservative or liberal. I’m both. Just be smart.
  4. If you must pander, pander to the Great State of Texas. You’re battling for excellence in national security. It makes total sense to pay homage to the land that gave us LBJ and George Bush, Jr. I think you know what I’m driving at.
  5. You have my promise that I will not let past, current, or fantasized future relationships color my judging. This is national security we’re talking about, dammit. Personal shit stays in the hall.
  6. Finally, stick the dismount. Seriously, when is that bad advice?



Getting Started

So I thought I’d give this whole blogging thing a try. I used to be fairly serious about it on a different topic. Let’s hope this motivates me to be a little more serious in my writing this year. I’ve got a chapter on the ethics of UAVs and my general work on military ethics to move forward in the coming months. Look here to find longer comments on some of what I find interesting on Twitter.