What is it Good For? Rethinking the Uses of War After Afghanistan and the Invasion of Ukraine

October 19, 2023 - October 20, 2023
Department of English and Philosophy, United States Military Academy

Jefferson Hall (Haig Room)
758 Cullum Rd
West Point 10996
United States

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities


University of New South Wales


United States Military Academy

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A century ago, following the destruction of World War One, skepticism about the resort to war swelled and a movement to outlaw war rose that included many prominent thinkers and activists. Today, something similar seems to be occurring. The past few decades saw a broad embrace of militarism in foreign affairs. Many came to see war as an effective solution to humanitarian crises, terrorism, and tyrannical governments, among other things. With the twenty-year war in Afghanistan fresh in our memories, there are a growing number of scholars raising doubts about the usefulness of war in international affairs. Samuel Moyn’s Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War, Ned Dobos’s Ethics, Security, and the War-Machine: The True Cost of the Military, John Mueller’s The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency, and Elizabeth Samet’s Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness, each in its own way argues for greater pessimism about what can be achieved by war.

At the same time, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has rekindled in many a sense of the honor, righteousness, and potential effectiveness of fighting a war in defense of others. Support for the Ukrainian resistance has come from across the political spectrum and led to the unification of Europe behind a militarized response to the threat posed by Russia. As a measure of this support, the US Congress overwhelmingly approved a treaty to expand NATO to include Finland and Sweden and the US military has committed at least $6 billion in military aid to Ukraine.

This year, West Point’s Conference on the Ethics of War and Peace will focus on the theme “What is it Good For? Rethinking the Uses of War After Afghanistan and the Invasion of Ukraine.” We will gather to revisit the ethics of resorting to war with the benefit of the experiences of the last few of decades of interventionism. What ends can war be reasonably thought to achieve? What explains the strategic failures (and successes) of recent military adventures? What causes us to misjudge the value of resorting to war? Are there social structural features that encourage the resort to war or hinder it? And what can answers to these questions contribute to a more useful theory of jus ad bellum and the creation of a political system that supports it? These are among the possible questions to be taken up at our conference on 19-20 October 2023 at West Point.

Registration for this event is open as of August 1st, 2023, and can be done using the following website:


For those that require lodging, we have a block of rooms set aside at the Hampton Inn Woodbury, which can be viewed at the following link:


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October 8, 2023, 5:00am EST

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