Contemporary Challenges for Just War Theory

March 12, 2021 - March 13, 2021

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Sponsor(s):

  • Temple University, Global Studies Program
  • Temple University, Department of Philosophy

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Temple University

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Just war theory, as a tradition, stretches back centuries, and has coalesced around the following questions: when is it permissible to go to war (jus ad bellum), what tactics of warfare are permissible (jus in bello), and how/when must a war be ended (just post bellum or jus terminatio). But the concept of the just war is under stress from some enormous contemporary challenges, including climate change, COVID-19, and Black Lives Matter.

This conference seeks to examine the question, What are the challenges that confront just war theory today? The question might be understood in two ways. First, Can we extend just war theory to apply to the novel problems we face today? And second, What do the novel problems we face today reveal about the limitations or deficiencies of just war theory?

Issues of interest might include:

-       The UN predicts that, in the near future, millions of people will lack access to potable water and arable land. How does this prediction put pressure on just war theory’s reliance on the concept of sovereignty (specifically, territorial integrity)? What sorts of claims, if any, may climate migrants make? Should we continue to think of states as having complete discretion over the land and water in their jurisdiction?

-       How can those from the global south fight a just war (especially, e.g., since it is unlikely they can satisfy the condition of probability of success against the much richer and powerful global north)?

-       Many cities in the United States have seen civil unrest in response to racist police violence. What role, if any, should the military play? What relationship, if any, should there be between the military and domestic police?

-       The UN predicts that in the next 10 years, 69 million children under the age of 5 will die from mostly preventable causes. Meanwhile, the US will spend nearly $1 trillion on its military this fiscal year. Is there a limit to how much countries may justly spend in preparation for fighting a just war?

-       We have been witnessing a trend where elected leaders are making states less democratic. Does this trend affect any of the criteria for a just war?

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