Military ethics, or ethics of war, is a set of practices and discourses that serve to guide the armed forces and their members to act in accordance with certain values and international standards, and to show these reference values to the citizens as a whole. The military protects the lives of the other citizens and at the same time protects the lives of their comrades, (or they protect each other’s backs) their practice is oriented towards the destruction of the weapons and avoiding their manufacture so that there is no reason or motive for defence.
Humanity has organized wars over 5000 years. During all this time it has also tried, with little success, to create regimes capable of preventing war or limiting its destructive effects. Traditional military ethics, and especially the theory of just war, deals with questions concerning the justifications given for the use of force (jus ad bellum or “right to war”), what can be justified in the context of the use of this force (jus in bello or “right in war”) and finally questions concerning post-war reconstruction (jus post bellum). On the other hand, an alternative vision draws attention to the role of the military in the progressive construction of peace, as a (incomplete) state of social justice of a multifaceted nature (economic, legal, political, cultural, religious, symbolic, etc.) which must always condition the resolution of conflicts by non-violent means.
The national and multinational armed forces must play a preventive and dissuasive role as a matter of priority. Their intervention may become inevitable in spite of everything, as a last resort, especially in the face of genocide, always within the framework of a law of armed conflict that may need to be updated, and under the mandate of the United Nations Security Council.
Table of Contents
- 1 Theory of military ethics
- 2 Military ethics in the face of 21st century conflicts
Theory of military ethics
Justification of the existence of armies
The military ethic is based on a contradiction to begin with: “The military profession is the only one whose fundamental function is immoral. Military ethics is a paradox, which seeks to establish a relationship between the two antithetical concepts of morality and murder.
Various currents take a different position on the justification of the existence of armies. The utilitarians consider that the existence of armies must be justified in an imperfect world where it is necessary to defend oneself and ensure security against external enemies, in the same way that the police are considered necessary to protect against crimes within a State.
Radical pacifists deny any justification for the existence of armies. For them, war is always a moral evil, or at least in some cases (e.g. for nuclear pacifists).
Another, less idealistic, type of pacifism considers that above all the dilemma is not between war and peace but between, on the one hand, a conception of the world according to which the sense of politics is conflict itself and, on the other hand, the conviction that no power can be justified if its main objective is not the respect of human dignity and the development of conditions that allow maximizing the well-being and the development of human potentialities. Thus, as opposed to the realistic option of understanding the world and acting accordingly, as if the human being were violent by nature, which has never been demonstrated, the alternative of this realistic utopia in the words of Kant, is to act as if peace existed, thus participating in its foundation.
The legitimacy of armies – One of the main questions that military ethics tries to answer is that of the subject from which the legitimacy of armies emanates. For example, Davenport argues that professional militaries must clearly distinguish between the interests of their clients, the nation states or governments of these states, and those of humanity, and thus establish an obligation of priority with respect to the latter.
Jean-René Bachelet contributes to this debate through a conceptualization of military ethics that is consistent with the requirement of a principle of humanity. The author defines this principle as follows: “All men, of whatever race, nationality, sex, age, opinion or religion, belong to a common humanity, and all of them have an indefeasible right to respect for their life, integrity and dignity”. This principle, situated at the very heart of the common good of the globalized world, contains three elements:
- the universality of man
- the value of the human person, of his life, of his integrity, of his dignity
- the imperative to act for a better world.
The Just War Theory
Just War Theory is a model of thought and a set of moral rules of conduct that define under what conditions war can be a morally acceptable act. Just war theory can be divided into three categories:
- Jus ad bellum: especially concerns the reasons for waging war.
- Jus in bello: concerns justice over the behaviour of the participants in the conflict.
- Jus post bellum: concerns the terminal phase and the peace agreements that must be equitable for the parties involved.
The theory of just war originates from the thought of Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and Francisco de Vitoria. St. Augustine considers the defence of the State to be necessary, even if it is morally imperfect, as an alternative to the case, which he knew well from having lived at the time of the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire. To commit oneself to participating in these wars is something that the author justifies only in the case of an aggression by others, that is, a violation of peace.
After 1648, medieval Christian thinking on just war became a secular version of this theory. Jus ad bellum, the reasons for initiating a war, are increasingly defined according to the twin principles of the new international system: territorial integrity and political sovereignty of states.
Jus ad Bellum or the right to war
For the realist current, war is an evil that can only be morally justified when it serves to prevent a greater evil. When war is initiated with “good intentions”, this act is no longer considered an inevitable evil but a legitimate use of power. By “good intention”, proponents of realism mean only a just cause that is sufficiently strong and that there is no trace of the presence of any other motive such as economic, ethnic, resource-gaining interest, etc.
The utilitarians defend the same point of view. One example is that of the innocent German civilian victims during the Second World War, whose numbers were lower compared to the actual and potential victims of the policies of systematic aggression, torture and genocide carried out by the Nazi regime. Utilitarianism does not justify non-proportionality, i.e. the disproportionate use of weapons compared to the enemy’s means of defence.
A recent United Nations document called A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility offers some advice on the circumstances that can legitimize a war. The document presents five main criteria of legitimacy: (a) Seriousness of the threat (b) Legitimacy of the motive (c) Last resort (d) Proportionality of the means used (e) Assessment of the consequences. To this is added a Security Council mandate that would authorize the use of force for any war that was officially declared.
- (a) Seriousness of the threat: “Does the nature, reality and gravity of the threat to the security of the state or of individuals justify the first use of military force in a conflict on one’s own initiative? In case of internal threats, is there a risk of genocide or other types of massacre, ethnic cleansing or serious violations of international humanitarian law, effective or imminent? “
- (b) Legitimacy of the motive: among the “legitimate” motives, the most frequently argued are self-defence; the defence of others; resistance against aggression; the protection of innocents against aggressive and brutal regimes; and the punishment of serious errors not yet sanctioned or repaired.
- (c) Last resort: A State may resort to war only if it has exhausted all plausible non-violent or peaceful alternatives for resolving the conflict in question, especially diplomatic negotiation.
- (d) Proportionality of means used: Not using means beyond those necessary to achieve the objective. The violence in the conflict must be proportional to the objective sought. Any state wishing to initiate a war must first compare the assets obtained by all parties (its own army, the opposing army and third parties) with the ills that will affect all, especially the victims.
- (e) Assessment of the consequences: a State should not initiate an aggression if it considers that it has no chance of success. The probability of success must be greater than the damage caused. The aim should be to prevent any gratuitous violence and the ultimate goal of the armed intervention should be the restoration of peace. That said, international law does not include this requirement as it favours more powerful states to the detriment of less powerful ones.
- (f) Legitimate authority and official public statement: the United Nations document speaks of a Security Council mandate. The “appropriate” legitimate authority, according to proponents of just war theory, must be specified in the constitution of the country concerned, and can often be the executive branch, regardless of whether it is democratic or not. However, Davenport argues that the military, throughout history, has believed that it had more experience than the citizens it served, with disastrous results. For this specialist in military ethics, the decision to start a war cannot be made by governments but by those responsible for appointing and dismissing governments, i.e. in the case of the United States, the people and their representatives.
The role and mission of the military, according to the traditional view, is to make war. However, Richard T. De George states that this is only partly true, since the most appropriate role would be to secure peace, and therefore only to participate in defensive missions. In this sense any war of aggression would be morally unjustified.
This view underpins the concept of deterrence. Thus, a more powerful or equal army dissuades a smaller one from undertaking any act of aggression. This point can help to legitimize the existence of armies in itself, although this does not prevent this deterrence from being accompanied by an attempt to reduce the number of armies and their influence (initiating processes of proportional disarmament as far as possible).
Jus in bello or law in war
The “law in war” aims, in time of war, to alleviate the condition of wounded military personnel and prisoners, of the civilian population and their property. It carries with it the hope, contradictory in nature, of preserving what remains of universal morality in a state of affairs that is outside the moral norms. Jus in bello has been created 150 years ago and is constantly evolving. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 are its fundamental core. Here are some principles of conduct during war:
Discrimination: This principle states that only people actually involved in a war can be considered a military target. All other people are considered innocent, and therefore must remain safe from attack. Having said that, it is often cynically accepted within the framework of just war theory that “when innocent people die as a secondary consequence of a military operation considered legitimate, they become part of the terrible cost of war, which of course must be regretted but which must be admissible, considering the concrete context”. However, for the critical currents of just war theory, this way of thinking should be outlawed. On the other hand, some actions such as guerrilla warfare, in which it is difficult to distinguish between civilians and the military, present a new kind of difficulty, although critics see this as a new form of justification and respond with the priority sense of the principle of discrimination.
Immunity of non-combatants: most experts agree on the inviolable value of this principle, which states that it is totally forbidden to kill civilians, except as a means of self-defence and only when really necessary. However, differences arise when non-combatants killed are referred to as collateral damage, a euphemism used to hide a lack of concern for civilian losses or even sometimes premeditated attacks on civilian targets.
The “law of war” appears, for some, to be related to individual awareness and appreciation of war or of a particular war. The individual and even collective involvement and what they entail, deserve a more important role in the organization of an act of war, than the one granted by the military command machine. Gal considers that the complexity and ambiguity that accompany the just nature of certain wars, the legitimacy of the use of force and the rules of this use, make critical involvement a preferable modality of military behavior to thoughtless obedience.
In the same vein, Davenport argues that professional military personnel (who differ, according to the author, from contract killers in the primacy of their obedience to moral values) cannot justify the practice of destructive actions against civilian enemies solely because these actions may benefit their own interests or even those of their country’s citizens. The soldier is obliged under military law to “promote the security and good of mankind” and this obligation takes precedence over obligations to the particular State that employs him or in a broader sense, the citizens of that State, who represent a particular fragment of this humanity.
For DeGeorge, the act of obeying implies fulfilling the orders received by a superior, while taking into account one’s own moral criteria. Thus there is no moral obligation to carry out an order that involves an immoral act, such as killing innocent people. At the same time, superiors have an obligation not to issue orders that are illegitimate because of their immorality. Finally, one should not issue an order and at the same time pretend not to be responsible for how this order is carried out (especially with regard to the type of weapons used and the number of victims and perhaps unnecessary damage, which the action on both sides entails).
Wakin and Kempf describe and question the forms of moral protest available to US army officers when faced with a demand for the execution of an order contrary to their moral conscience (such as killing prisoners or civilians, poisoning wells, setting fire to civilian buildings, etc.) within the framework of respect for democratic values and the cohesion of the army. The authors explain some possible alternatives to the execution of immoral orders, such as resignation, refusal of execution, request for transfer as an act of protest, and demand for intervention by an authority of higher rank than the one who transmitted the order. The authors criticize the fact that the American army, unlike the British and French armies, has not developed a doctrine of moral objection to morally or ethically unacceptable orders.
Conscientious objection is a higher level of criticism of the just or unjust nature of wars. While official tolerance of widespread conscientious objection is well established in most Western states, by comparison, selective conscientious objectors (those who oppose involvement in certain wars because they believe them to be unjust) are not only not accepted as objectors but may, in certain countries, be tried for disobedience. A recent and paradigmatic example of selective conscientious objection is that of the reservists in the Israeli army who have objected to the various conflicts in which this country has been involved. or in the German army in which the Federal Court of Justice recognized in 2005 the right to selective conscientious objection for a commander who had refused to carry out logistical support missions for the American forces involved in Iraq.
On the other hand, the absence of moral conscience among soldiers is accompanied by a following. Followerism in the military sphere is understood as the absence of one’s own judgment regarding the orders of superiors that are contrary to the morals of the executors themselves, for fear of soiling their résumé or losing their position. As an alternative, DeGeorge has proposed a code of ethics for U.S. Army officers, the key points of which are
- I prefer peace to war, and I can assure you that the military performs its function more effectively when it prevents war than when it goes to war.
- I am as prudent as possible in the use of force, which I exercise only when necessary to accomplish my mission.
- I obey all legitimate orders, and nothing but legitimate ones.
- I never forget that those who are under my orders are moral persons worthy of respect and therefore I do not give them immoral orders.
- I am responsible for the orders I give and for the way in which these orders are carried out.
- I will never ask those who are under my orders to do what I would not do in the same situation.
On the other hand, some scientific studies show that the development of violent and immoral behaviour among soldiers is not only caused by the violent and extremely tense framework of warlike conflicts, but also by the very hierarchical organisation of armies. When the military do not have sufficient autonomy and cannot subject the orders received to their own moral criteria, they develop attitudes such as an excess of conformity, lack of innovation, group thinking and even more cases of pathological or illegal behaviour compared to the average.
Fundamental rules of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflict:
- persons hors de combat and persons not taking a direct part in hostilities have the right to respect for their lives and physical and moral integrity, these persons shall in all circumstances be protected and treated humanely, without distinction of any adverse nature.
- It is prohibited to kill or injure an adversary who surrenders or is hors de combat.
the party to the conflict in whose power they are, shall collect and provide assistance to the wounded and sick. medical personnel, establishments, means of transport and medical equipment shall also be protected. the red cross emblem (of the red crescent) is the sign of protection and must be respected.
- Captured combatants and civilians held by the opposing side have the right to have their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions respected. they shall be protected against all acts of violence and reprisals. they shall have the right to exchange news with their families and to receive assistance.
- Everyone shall benefit from fundamental judicial guarantees. No one shall be held responsible for an act that he or she has not committed, nor shall anyone be subjected to physical or mental torture or to corporal punishment or cruel or degrading treatment.
- The parties to the conflict and the members of the respective armed forces do not have unlimited rights with regard to the choice of methods and means of warfare. The use of weapons or methods of warfare that may cause unnecessary loss or excessive suffering is prohibited.
- The parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants, protecting the civilian population and property. Attacks shall be directed against military objectives, not against the civilian population.
ref: manual of international humanitarian law for the Mexican Army and Air Force DN M111, ed. 2003
Jus post bellum
A distinction must be made here between the strict reconstruction of the conditions existing before the start of a conflagration, which we will call here jus post bellum, and the permanent construction of peace, which includes post-war law as well as the conditions for an ethics of sustainable peace, that is, the establishment in the long term of the economic, cultural, political, legal, educational and media conditions… necessary for the peaceful, just and democratic resolution of conflicts when they are on the horizon. Here we will deal with jus post bellum and later, in a general way, with the construction of a sustainable peace.
Several active elements constitute jus post bellum, among them:
Victim support – Building peace is a process that begins before the end of the war, as shown by the economic and psychological support activities of various organizations throughout the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the vitality of Palestinian civil society, including the economic and psychological self of various organizations throughout the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the vitality of Palestinian civil society, including
Demobilization and reintegration of combatants – Reintegration should not be limited to demilitarization but should include real programs of insertion into society and the economy and participation in political life, in the case of guerrillas or factions that have been demobilized at the end of a conflict. Some successful examples of demobilization have taken place among child soldiers in Sierra Leone as well as among young militiamen at the end of the Lebanese civil war.
Reconciliation strategies – to end an internal or international conflict, or to move from a dictatorship to a democracy, the issue of reconciliation has always been a key aspect of the transition or peace process. Often, in Latin America, amnesty laws have been adopted, the consequence of which has almost always been to achieve de facto impunity for the perpetrators of the greatest human rights violations. Without going into a detailed analysis of these legal texts, there is a general consensus that national reconciliation cannot take place without an act of forgiveness. This implies that the perpetrators of the crimes be identified, and that the suffering of the victims and their loved ones be acknowledged.
Memory, reparation, justice
“Action against impunity is fundamental to repairing memory. In the case of the war in Bosnia, and other atrocious conflicts such as those in Rwanda or Somalia, war crimes and criminal ideologies must be brought to justice. In order not to confuse an entire people with the leaders who have led it towards murderous tendencies, it is necessary to judge certain periods of history, and that facts, individuals, ideologies can be condemned, in order to allow a collective recovery.
The importance of the issue of impunity in Latin America, where human rights violations have been massive, is fundamental: a true process of rebuilding society, after a period of dictatorship or war, is not possible if the victims of a condemned system have not been recognized as such. Although not all criminals and murderers are punished, it is important that the mechanics of which they were the instruments be analyzed and condemned as such, to allow a re-appropriation of memory, and also perhaps so that the victims can forgive. What has been erased from memory cannot be forgiven. This is the drama of Uruguay, Chile where there is, on the part of the new powers, a willingness to turn the page, and to pretend that it is possible to erase everything and start again.
In this context one can speak of moral reparation to begin with, which takes place through the action of the Truth and/or Reconciliation Commissions (South Africa, Chile, El Salvador, etc.). For example, in the Chilean case, the National Truth Commission has recognized and codified the crimes committed, and rehabilitated the victims by restoring their personal dignity and asking their families for forgiveness. However, it has not carried out the identification of the criminals or clarified the disappearances of persons. In the Chilean case there has also been material reparation, with various types of compensation: a pension scheme for the families of victims who did not survive the repression: the right to free medical services and advantages for children and families in the areas of health and education.
“To assume the memory of the Other as one’s own, is to give birth to the concept of a common history, in which violence, suffered and dispensed, appears in retrospect as one of the figures of interdependence and tears. To this end, the capacity of the supporters of peace to think for both, that is to say, to integrate the former enemy as a component of the common collective being, largely conditions the possibility of transforming the state of non-belligerence into a state of real peace”.
Peacebuilding and the Art of Peace: The Role of the Military
The construction of peace is not only a matter of treaties and international law that seek to prohibit war, but also of all the social dimensions (economic, educational, cultural, media, psychological, etc.) that must be addressed in order to prevent the violent drift of future conflicts, and to sow a state of sensitivity and collective awareness l respect for the habit of decision-making at all levels, through dialogue and mutual respect, of justice and democracy. The aim of this “art of peace” (broken link available in the Internet Archive; see history and latest version). is therefore to go beyond violence as an evil of human nature, avoidable but not easy, which originates wars, and to replace it with an alternative culture of peaceful conflict resolution. “It is a much more complex project that draws attention to the need to live together on a planetary scale and to the challenge of managing the differences, diversity and heterogeneity intrinsic to the human species.
The role of the military in reconstruction – The participation of the military in the reconstruction of peace can take place in collaboration with NGOs and the media whenever this collaboration is possible beyond all mistrust and subordination of one another. Although this collaboration is unfortunately not very frequent, it is probably the best way for Cot to involve the military in peace-building.
Citizen primacy over defence in democracy – From the point of view of non-violent discourse “the defence of the rule of law is not based primarily on the mobilization of the military but on the mobilization of citizens. From this perspective, the concepts of peace and defence should be demilitarised, because if military technology precedes, replaces and ends up evacuating political reflection, it is no longer the citizen who is the main actor in defence, but its technical tool, the military machine, the weapons system. It is important that citizens become aware of the danger this “technical fundamentalism” represents for democracy and reject the security ideology that lies within it, as long as they re-appropriate their own role in the defence of democracy. Defence must be civil in the first place, that is to say, it must be organized within the framework of the institutions of political society and civil society organizations that allow citizens to exercise their rights and freedoms. If the object of the defence is democracy, the actor of the defence is the citizen since he is the actor of democracy (…). The more citizens have the feeling of living in a fair society, the more they will be motivated to defend it against the threats that beset it. In the same way, the more they participate effectively in the political and economic management of the country, the better they will be prepared to defend society from an eventual aggression. Thus the choice of a nonviolent civil defence is a bet on democracy. Only a democratic society can carry it out, and only democratic governments are capable of accepting it.
Nonviolent civil defence and the proposal of a “transarmament” scenario – “Nonviolent civil defence can be considered as an alternative to military defence. But this conception of things presupposes that a country decides to renounce all forms of armed defence in order to entrust its security and independence on the preparation and, if necessary, on the implementation of nonviolent civil defence. Due to the scope of cultural, political and strategic changes of this decision, this is an impracticable hypothesis in the short or medium term. The value of this alternative is thus judged by its ability to enable a coherent process of transition and a dynamic of change. In this transition process that we will call transarmament, the different forms of military defence and civil defence should exist, even if such coexistence may seem conflictive. But the preparation and organization of a nonviolent civil defence constitutes from today an added value for the global deterrence of our country that could be decisive. Everything that helps to consolidate the affirmation of a will to defend and everything that serves to increase our capacity to resist an eventual aggression, increases the deterrent effect of our defence”.
The search for common security – Military peace is generally based on the threat of “mutual destruction. This balance of military terror is fragile; it could be destabilized by a simple technological incident, or by a major political crisis. For in this case each adversary could fear preventive action by the other. This mutual fear can precipitate an armed confrontation between rival states. In the face of this irrational and excessive risk, peoples and nations face the challenge of building peace not through the threat of “mutual destruction” but through the search for “common security”. This is not based on mutual trust, nor does it seek to make the enemy a friend. It is simply based on the fact that our adversary needs security as much as we do and that, beyond our mutual distrust, we have the same vital interest in assuming our defence by means that do not involve the risk of mutual destruction. The concept of common security is not military but political. It is not about preparing for war against each other, but about building peace together.
However, there are notions and policies of “mutual reinforcement”. Thus, to complete the deterrent dimension and to control the risk of conflict, the member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have signed the Vienna Documents of the negotiations on confidence and security measures.
From this perspective, common security leads us to base our defence no longer on “aggressive” deterrence but rather “defensive”. It is not a question of deterring the adversary with threats of unacceptable destruction, but of persuading him that our means of defence would defeat any attempt at aggression on his part and that his enterprise would have a good chance of being defeated. This deterrent can thus enable the decision-maker to maintain a “defensive posture” that does not arouse fear in his opponent as long as he does not make a move either. From there, when a crisis occurs, rival states are in a strategic position that makes it much easier for the conflict to remain in the political arena in which it must find a solution.
Reflecting on peace – “The time has come to make a definitive break with the idea that if we want peace, we must prepare for war. We must take the risk of thinking and saying: if we want to avoid war, we must build peace. We have before us the challenge of building peace. Probably a good part of public opinion still prefers the risk of violence to that of nonviolence. However, one task is imposed on reasonable people, which is the construction of peace, that is, to face conflicts and to mobilize for their resolution by peaceful means, that is, nonviolent. What we have also learned is that peace can only be based on democracy and that democracy is based on the ability to mobilize citizens to build and, where necessary, to defend the rule of law.
Military ethics in the face of 21st century conflicts
The conflicts of the 21st century
After the fall of the wall, the conflicts are characterized by their acceleration and intensification. Cot observes “a certain calming of tensions and inter-state wars with, on the other hand, a multiplication of intra-state conflicts. The brutal release of tension and violence between East and West seems to serve to release other contained forces, not only in Balkan Europe and the Caucasus but throughout the world, where the two great powers were closely marked, often supported by their clients or by mercenaries interposed (…)”.
“The conflict in the 80s (…) was “entrenched”: there was no possibility of extending that state of affairs, either regionally or in terms of armaments. The conflict was thus maintained at the level of the so-called “low-intensity” wars. The weapons used were generally individual and light (…). Today, there is no control of the violent means offered to the warring parties (…). This is so much so that these conflicts no longer link local problems and global problems as they did during the cold war period, but rather local problems and regional problems” according to the report of the working day on conflict prevention.
Here are some types of armed conflict currently taking place or at risk in the 21st century (terrorism is dealt with in a separate section):
Civil war – Until the beginning of the 20th century, civil war was considered a strictly internal matter that was the reserved competence of the state concerned, which had in fact and by law all the powers to deal with it in the way that best suited the factionalists, considering for example rebels in arms as simple criminals and applying its own criminal law to them. The war in Spain showed especially the insufficiency of international legal tools with respect to civil wars. Since 1949, with the Geneva Conventions, the orientation is towards the application of minimum humanitarian guarantees in non-international armed conflicts. The second additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1977 aims at applying the main rules of the law of armed conflict to non-international conflicts. It protects persons not participating in the conflict, prohibits attacks directed against the civilian population or against objects indispensable for their survival, gives rights to persons detained during the conflict and prohibits forced population movements.
Low-intensity conflict – Low-intensity conflict involves the deployment and use of troops in situations other than classic warfare. They are generally operations against non-state actors and can consist of counter-insurgency, anti-subversion and peacekeeping actions. Certain authors, such as Noam Chomsky, see low-intensity operations as a form of terrorism.
Modern high-intensity conflicts – These are characterized by the use of armed forces that use the full range of modern weapons (of destruction such as fighter planes, armored troops, missiles, etc.) deliberately excluding the nuclear spiral … This scenario, kept in the closet during the cold war, has unfortunately re-entered the scene of conflicts, at least in phases and even in Europe (wars in the Balkans, Georgia, Iraq, etc.)
Nuclear war – also called “total war”, in which there would be no discrimination between combatants and non-combatants, is a type of war that could lead to the destruction of humanity, and therefore can never be considered a just war. It cannot satisfy the conditions of good intention, proportionality, correct use of means, etc. Its consequences must be considered, by any rational actor, as a great physical and moral evil. Total war” must be avoided and prevented.
Crimes and responsibilities
Three types of crimes can be distinguished in a war: war crimes proper, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace.
War crimes – War crimes are defined by international agreements, in particular by the Rome Statute (the 59 paragraphs of article 8), which deals with the competences of the International Criminal Court (ICC), among which there are some serious violations of the Geneva Conventions. This includes the case where one of the parties to the conflict attacks non-military targets (human or material) of its own volition. Non-military targets include civilians, prisoners of war and the wounded.
Crime against humanity – A crime against humanity is any serious violation such as murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and any other inhumane act committed against the civilian population. Crimes against humanity are defined by Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but remain subject to various controversies. In the face of a situation of a crime against humanity, several solutions are envisaged.
The notion of Crime Against Peace has been defined by international military tribunals since the end of World War II. According to the London Agreements of 8 August 1945, this crime is defined by “the direction, preparation, initiation and continuation of a war of aggression, or of a war in violation of international treaties, conventions or agreements, or participation in an agreed plan or plot which seeks to achieve any of the above objectives”. The prosecution of persons for this type of crime does not concern only the leaders of a country and the high military ranks. This notion can also be defined as a war of aggression, although sometimes the notion of a crime against peace can mean, more broadly, the violation of peace in the world.
Faced with any kind of crime related to acts of war, the law of war has been generated primarily by the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The 1949 Geneva Conventions on the protection of war victims are a large body of law in force, probably the most extensive and universal set of laws in international law, universally ratified. although the number of countries signing the additional protocols is smaller and there are notable absences such as the United States. Most of its provisions are of a customary nature. However, the Geneva Conventions are not always respected and implemented.
The Geneva Conventions certainly have limits, especially because of their non-applicability to weapons of mass destruction. The systematic non-application of the Conventions and the Bush administration’s offensive since 11 September 2001, including the unpunished way in which the Americans and their allies have tortured prisoners and attacked civilians, have led certain neoconservative intellectuals to claim that the Geneva Conventions were obsolete and that they should be ignored if the war on terror is to succeed.
Veuthey, on the other hand, considers that the non-application of the Geneva Conventions would and does imply, every time they are ignored, the following consequences, among others:
- The disappearance of the universality of humanitarian standards, ratified by virtually all countries and which were of a customary nature.
- Ignoring the collective responsibility of all states to respect these tools.
- Abandon the principle of universal jurisdiction over the prosecution of serious violations of the
- Conventions and build different areas and levels of protection of human dignity in armed conflicts.
- To lose an important common basis for maintaining a minimum dialogue and establishing special agreements in non-international conflicts and with non-state actors.
- The loss of restraint in the use of violence in armed conflicts and the increase in degrading conditions with respect to the life and rights of civilians.
- Abandonment of a set of anti-terrorist laws.
- Loss of laws allowing for the movement and repatriation of internally displaced persons and refugees.
- Destruction of humanitarian values largely based on universal military ethics, tradition and honour.
- Degradation of universally agreed guarantees for the protection of combatants in the event of injury, illness, shipwreck and capture, and destruction of the likelihood of soldiers themselves receiving prisoner of war status and treatment in the event of capture.
To address the crisis of the current non-universal application of the Geneva Conventions, Vauthey proposes a better implementation of the Conventions in three steps:
- Reaffirming, in a simple and understandable way, the foundations of the Geneva Conventions through a declaration of the fundamental humanitarian rules, customs and principles to be respected during wartime.
- To train, teach and educate troops, militias, police, trainers as well as private security to basic humanitarian values and on basic aspects of the correct use of violence.
- Implement and strengthen fundamental existing laws by improving the application of existing legal mechanisms and other solutions to violations of these laws.
Interventions for peace and security
“Since the fall of the wall, international peacekeeping operations involving blue helmets or regional forces have multiplied and developed on a large scale in various war scenarios. However, in practice, they have reduced the capacity for conflict resolution and victim support in relation to existing expectations, since on the one hand they have not served to impose peace even occasionally, nor to enforce the law of war, nor, finally, to achieve a humanitarian function independent of the interests of the forces in conflict”.
“The construction of a new international order implies the recognition of a right and a duty for the international community to interfere in the affairs of States when they deliberately violate the rules of democracy by seriously infringing the rights and freedoms of all their citizens and of some of their minorities. Similarly, interference by the international community may be necessary in a country where the State is unable to deal with the exactions committed by part of the population. It is not acceptable for the international community to take refuge under the principle of non-interference and passively witness systematic repression of a people by a military dictatorship, or a civil war between two factions of the same people or two peoples which the vicissitudes of history have reluctantly led to coexist in the same State.
Among the possible interventions, the “Dossier pour un débat” of the MAN and the FPH quotes the following:
Supporting media that allow public expression of opinions that oppose official propaganda that is often based on discrimination and exclusion of the other, and that feeds conflicts and engenders violence.
Imposing economic sanctions on a country to force its leaders to change their policies. The typical example of economic sanctions is embargo. Economic sanctions against a country will undoubtedly increase difficulties, in an already difficult context for the civilian population. It was therefore advisable that such measures should be taken in consultation with the representatives of the democratic forces in the country concerned. On the other hand, a distinction should be made between trade sanctions and financial sanctions, with the former being preferred over the latter wherever possible.
Civilian intervention, i.e. an unarmed intervention, on the ground of a local conflict, by a mission from outside, led by an intergovernmental, governmental or non-governmental organisation, whose objective is to carry out observation, information, intervention, mediation and/or cooperation activities with a view to preventing or stopping the violence and creating the conditions for a political solution to the conflict that recognises and guarantees the fundamental rights of each of the parties present, and enables them to define the rules of peaceful coexistence.
Observation missions: the sending of observers led by an international, national or non-governmental authority. Observation missions make it possible, first of all, to gather on the ground the most precise information on the course of events. These missions should not be protected under a position of political neutrality. Instead, the aim should be to establish, as rigorously as possible, the exact responsibilities of each party in the genesis of the conflict. It is also a question of showing what the fundamental rights of the various parties involved in the conflict are, of drawing up a list of the violations of these rights, and of proposing concrete measures to be implemented so that these rights are respected and guaranteed. These missions must be able to provide accurate information to political and diplomatic bodies (national and international) and to international public opinion. They can therefore play a deterrent role. The fact that the observers are trained to know the activities of the parties present may lead them to hesitate to initiate any violent act, since they know that they will be directly accused and this will delegitimize their cause.
Mediation missions: this involves prolonging the observation missions. Mediation is the intervention of a third party who intervenes between the two protagonists of a conflict with the intention of making them move from adversity to dialogue, that is, to encourage them to talk, listen, understand each other and if possible, find a compromise that opens the way to reconciliation.
Nonviolent intervention: interposition is a method of direct non-violent intervention that consists of assuming a presence at the site of a conflict before those who, in struggle for the recognition of their rights, live the threat of violence from their adversaries. This permanent presence is intended to act as a deterrent between the actors – led by public authorities or other types of powers – who would like to attack these people.
In terms of proposals, Amnesty International has drawn up a programme with fifteen points that should form part of its definition of the mandate of the “forces of peace”, which aims, among other things, at the political commitment of the international community, the introduction of human rights clauses in peace agreements, effective control of human rights and monitoring on the ground to ensure peace and justice, the strengthening of international observers, long-term measures on the legal system and education, and the prosecution of war criminals.
At the level of alternative experiences generated by civil society, it is necessary to mention first of all civil interventions (see also the definition above). By “civil intervention”, the IRNC considers “an unarmed intervention of foreign forces (whether or not directed by an international authority) that are involved in a local or regional conflict in order to carry out, on the spot, observation, interposition and mediation missions. These missions are intended to create the conditions for a political solution to the conflict which recognises and guarantees the fundamental rights of each of the parties present and enables them to define the rules of democratic coexistence”.
An example of civil intervention with several years of experience is the Peace Brigades International, which develops a form of nonviolent intervention, especially in El Salvador and Guatemala, ensuring the accompaniment and protection of people directly exposed to reprisals by the forces of repression.
The bet on a civil intervention is based on the idea that it can dissuade the parties involved in a conflict from developing the worst ways which would lead them to a standstill. The explicit announcement that the forces that are going to intervene in such a mission will only use non-violent methods is important because it helps to neutralize the rejection reactions caused by a foreign interference, and to facilitate the development of a mediation. Experience shows that any nonviolent interposition mission is meaningful and effective only if it is accompanied by a mediation mission. Mediation consists in contacting all civil society actors who oppose the logic of war, in order to broaden the scope of negotiations as much as possible.
Humanitarian interventions – Among the interventions that guarantee security, humanitarian interventions that have achieved their objectives have been recognized in recent wars (1990 and 2000) as the last resort to be able to meet the basic needs of the population affected by these conflicts. However, at the same time, these interventions have been criticised above all for having generated a benefit for the belligerent forces or for the states and other forces that take advantage of this false humanitarianism that hides inaction or the absence of a true commitment to peace.
Thus, for example, the “perverse effects of international solidarity action” include, according to Ateliers du Sud, political recovery, harmful effects on the environment, amateurism and overvaluation. With regard to recovery on the ground, “NGOs can be manipulated. In Yugoslavia, for example, representatives of humanitarian organizations have been held hostage not only by the Serbs, but also by the French government, which has involved them in various negotiations aimed at serving electoral objectives. In Cambodia, working in the refugee camps set up on the Thai border, NGOs have been instruments of a policy organised jointly by Thais, Americans and Chinese, because of their confrontation with the Russians and Vietnamese, to maintain these camps. In the Rwandan conflict, they have helped to strengthen the position of the militias and FAR forces that were holding the civilian population hostage in the refugee camps, thus contributing to the reconstruction of a state of conflict. In Zaire, they have unwittingly supplied the Zairean army with means of locomotion: the trucks heading for Kisangani to escort the aid, returned with the defeated soldiers (…)”.
“The task proposed to those who want to intervene to establish peace in the world is gigantic and disproportionate to the effective means available. To accomplish it would require a mobilization of the international community. But this “international community” is largely fictitious. It is the nation-states that hold the reality of the power of decision and action. And the primary motivation of states is not precisely fidelity to the values proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but consideration of their particular interests (…). Faced with such conditions, only citizens can mobilize themselves to reverse State policy. But if the only lever for mobilizing public opinion is resentment resulting from unacceptable images complacently distributed by the media, there is a risk of inducing perverse effects because in this case governments will take care in priority to “calm” public opinion by deciding to intervene for the sole purpose of intervening. Most likely, in that case, they will decide to carry out a military-humanitarian operation without showing any real political will.
“Humanitarianism only makes sense if it removes the victims from their status as victims by creating the conditions for mutual recognition and reciprocity, and a national and international framework capable of transforming the victim into an equal within a global community (…) Humanitarian action can thus be conceived as a field of action in which unprecedented forms of respect for human dignity are invented. Far from being reduced to urgent actions, humanitarianism, enriched by a knowledge of human rights, can find its true political dimension, i.e. where individuals and victims become subjects.
The role of the United Nations and other international actors
The United Nations Charter is ambitious about conflict resolution. While Chapter VI outlines some avenues for peaceful resolution, Chapter VII evokes the conditions and means for coercive action in the event of a breach of the peace or an act of aggression.
The United Nations is nevertheless going to carry out its training in learning these principles, in the context of the planetary condominium implicitly established by the United States and the Soviet Union, the first possessors of nuclear weapons, during the cold war. Consequently, the UN’s commitments to peace will be limited to the “interstices” that the two great powers will agree upon, that is, where their interests will not be directly involved.
After 1989, the UN will not have the opportunity to develop the profound reform that would have enabled it to face the new world situation. It will find itself brutally involved in the conflicts in Yugoslavia, Somalia and Rwanda, which are completely new to it. These are no longer wars between states, for which it was better prepared, but intra-state conflicts, i.e. civil wars or repressive actions by governments against part of their own population. Furthermore, these operations will have to be decided and set in motion as a matter of urgency, without a prior ceasefire being signed, nor political agreements creating expectations of peace, as had been the case until then. Thus, in its wavering between its philosophy of consensus and the demands of interventions by force for which it has no interest in acquiring the material means, the UN moves from failure to failure. It withdraws without glory from Rwanda, in the middle of a massacre. It leaves Somalia in the middle of the case, after the United States has left the battlefield after the first military losses. He leaves Bosnia clandestinely, passing the baton to NATO when the fighting had already ceased.
Is there a willingness within the international community to provide itself with the means to react immediately and effectively to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed against innocent people? If the answer is not clear, it is implicit and therefore negative. Should the UN have a standing army or a police force, designed for intervention on the ground to prevent disasters such as those in Srebrenica, Kigali and Vukovar? According to Cot,  the philosophy of the UN has always led to the refusal to provide itself with such a minimum permanent military capacity. Instead, calls for “coalitions of willing states” are preferred. But these have only recently responded to the interests of the American empire.
Cot addresses the reform of the United Nations, especially with regard to its capacity for operational intervention. The author proposes the following basic points:
Provide the Security Council with its own means of assessing and monitoring UN operations, by setting up a military advisory committee.
To make the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations a real operational staff.
Provide the Secretariat with a senior general officer, military deputy to the secretary general, commander-in-chief of the blue helmets, and the military advisory committee’s privileged liaison with the Security Council.
There is also a need for a department of peace operations organized as a military general staff, serving this senior military official. Its mission will be that of a general staff worthy of the name: to collect and process in real time information from all the hot spots on the planet; to present summaries, with the full range of possible reactions; to convert the decisions taken into orders and disseminate them; and finally to permanently monitor their execution.
A force capable of imposing the cessation of combat on indisposed belligerents or of stopping unacceptable behaviour among them the aggression of a power against a part of its own population. A modest force intervening in the “grey zone” between classic peacekeeping, the sphere of the blue helmets, and the imposition of peace by force.
The role of military alliances – Collective security and regional integration have been considered, for several centuries, as the only viable alternatives to the system – now dying – of balance between powers, whose last incarnation disappeared with the end of the cold war.
Regionalization is one of the phenomena that are part of the complex process of globalization that has been developing over the last few decades and which will definitively transform the sense of state sovereignty for the better and for the worse. We are thus witnessing the pacification of certain regions, as was the case in the 1980s and 1990s in Southeast Asia, and at the same time the accentuation of conflicts in the Middle East. With regard to the consolidation of a culture of peace over a longer period, the European process of regulating regional differences through the balancing of interests, solidarity-based assistance for regional development, integration, restoration of the rule of law, etc. can be considered exemplary. The example of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) can also be cited, even if there are still conflicts that have not been fully resolved, as in the case of Georgia and Chechnya.
Beyond the differences and particularities of each case, one can think of several important elements for the elaboration of road maps for regional peace, such as
Regional peace negotiation groups (such as the Contadora Group)
International cooperation funds for disarmament with contribution systems for the richest and retribution for the poorest (bonus – penalty) proportional to the reduction of military budgets
Reconversion of the arms industries,
A vigil on the arms trade, subject to parliamentary and public scrutiny.
Reduction of the volume of offensive weapons in each region and limitation of manoeuvres and deployment of forces
Transformation of rapid intervention forces into non-offensive interposition forces.
Notification of certain military activities
To accompany these measures with others of a non-military nature (economic, democratization, cultural rapprochement, etc.) to bring the countries of the region closer together.
The emergence of non-state actors
In the era of communication and global governance in which we live, which gives our increasingly interconnected societies the possibility of directly influencing political and international relations issues, the role of civic associations and “citizens’ alliances” tends to grow.
Among these alliances, an informal network supported by the FPH, the “Alliance of the Military” is a space “for the expression and exchange of ideas and positions on various topics related to security and stability” whose objective is to “carry out a reflection on security and defense problems, as well as on the means of promoting a “Defence and Security Consciousness” with citizens that will help to understand the risks and opportunities inherent in international relations in a globalizing world and to participate actively in defining the conditions that will ensure the stability of these relations and peace”.
Furthermore, its action aims to promote a precise idea of the ethical foundations of the exercise of the military profession and of the relationship between the military and civilians in democratic or democratising societies.
Through its networking and its manifestations, the “alliance of the military” wants to influence not only the public’s understanding of the new role of the military in the maintenance of international peace and in the management of security challenges and multi-faceted crises. It also seeks to influence decisions and developments within military organizations at the national level (armed forces in transformation) and at the international level (UN, NATO, European Union, other regional military alliances), particularly with regard to information policy and the philosophical foundations of the training and behavior of active military personnel.
The idea of a “network” and the “step-by-step” process of construction through the organization of meetings with counterparts in other countries is the most appropriate way of defining this initiative, which is not limited to a merely professional framework.
Some associations that have cooperated with the “Alliance of the Military” have created a Charter for the Promotion of a “European Security and Defence Consciousness” (broken link available in Internet Archive; see history and latest version). (CESD). This document, intended for the general public, formulates the objectives, tasks, conditions for membership and implementation of enhanced military cooperation at European level. One of the fundamental objectives is the promotion of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) to the general public, without however seeking to question the transatlantic partnership and the functions of the United Nations. In the field of security and defence, the actions of national governments and European institutions must go hand in hand with the commitment of Europe’s citizens.
Organisation and evolution of armies
The role of the army in society in times of peace
The armed forces are sometimes considered to be conservative, even reactionary, or worse, anti-democratic instruments that defend the cause of the dictatorship. The military institution, based on hierarchy and discipline, has as its mission, a Fortiori, to prepare for war. Contrary to this, democracy is a priori refractory to warlike actions, it promotes respect for equality and individual freedom. Why and how can – and should – the army and democracy live together? This is one of the fundamental questions facing democracies today. For example, in Colombia, there is a lot of work being done to rebuild confidence in the military institution, which must be accompanied by another work to reorganize the army under law and democracy, an army that has been accused of corruption and is accused of being allied with drug traffickers, and which, in the face of the distrust of civilians, has become, in spite of everything, a military state within the state.
“If they are given too much power, the military generally does not give it up, so military influence increases beyond its natural space and its role is diverted from protection to tyranny. Therefore, loyalty to the State is fundamental (…) and a priority compared to the obligation to one’s profession”. In the United States this principle is known as “civilian control of military services”.
The report of the Venice Commission (for democracy through law) establishes a framework of national and international institutions with directly elected or non-elected members, which can exercise democratic control over the armed forces. This control concerns aspects such as military expenditure, the defence budget and the appointment of military officers, as well as issues relating to the new role of the armed forces, at national and international level.
There are various civil society initiatives to limit the conversion of weapons, especially in post-war countries but also in countries that have not known war for a long time. Experiences can be cited from Quebec and the United States. Some more ambitious criticisms, but less likely to be made in the short term, which attack the sources of the problem of arms proliferation.
Conversion is a complex process, which faces various obstacles: on the armed forces (reduction of military personnel, closure of bases…) as well as on the economy (loss of jobs, closure of factories, closure of markets, cost of conversion…). Consequently, a conversion programme must respond to this complexity by means of a programme for a true “economy of peace”.
Richard Petris has elaborated, within the framework of a global reflection on conversion, some possible general proposals for an integral transition towards a peaceful society:
1 – A Plan-Programme for the reconversion: that it is the priority tool of a public investment policy, indispensable to guide the options of substitution.
2 – More peaceful research and development: through the creation of ethics committees; limiting the possibility of selling “sensitive” patents; encouraging the design of warning tools, or even the development of security strategies, at various levels.
3 – Collective security, with the translation into action of several new concepts such as limiting forces to a level of strict sufficiency; prevention, anticipation and management of crises; global security, which cannot ignore the need for a fairer distribution of wealth.
4 – A policy of large workshops combining concern for employment and responses to major needs in terms of equipment or environmental rehabilitation.
5 – Education and training for peace, with peace research that translates into operational conclusions, or even leads to “normative” proposals.
In the field of articulations between actors, coordination efforts have been developed for the implementation of a kind of international of the personnel of the armament industry, to share the problems and to look for common solutions to the challenge of reconversion. This initiative has at the same time called for other types of contributions: scientific, political, etc.
Processes and proposals for disarmament
Disarmament in industrialized countries – “Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, programs have been merely reduced, rarely abandoned. It is partly a problem of the size of the commercial and military organizations, and partly the result of inertia. On the other hand, other factors involved are the weight of the manufacturers, the fear of unemployment, and the resistance of the military”.
Disarmament in developing countries – The reduction of military expenditure in these countries (among which the poorest in the world) is even slower than in industrialized countries. Their arguments are usually deterrence vis-à-vis their neighbours and the important role that the military plays in the economy. However, the risk of death in these countries is 30 times higher from malnutrition or epidemics than from aggression by a neighbouring country. Arms expenditure deprives human development of precious resources. This situation is partly attributable to the industrialised countries, which have not yet ended their military aid or arms exports.
The future of disarmament in the world – The fall of the Berlin Wall has served to unveil many conflicts. Progress towards development will clearly require closer cooperation between industrialised and developing countries. Such progress would mean the implementation of the following measures:
Create forums for development: in particular through existing organizations (AU, ASEAN, etc.) It is time to develop diplomatic discussions to this end, similar to the 1991 Tegucigalpa agreement for Central America. The United Nations could thus intervene more actively in the disarmament of the Third World.
Deactivate tensions around the world. The example of peaceful resolutions in Central America or South Africa shows that effective mediation is possible.
The major powers must become more involved in this area, through the United Nations forum.
Gradually abolish military aid: this aid has already been considerably reduced. However, sales of light weapons continue to develop at the same rate. As well as fuelling the arms race at regional level, this involves significant added costs for maintenance and infrastructure, immense possibilities for corruption and huge debts. It would be desirable to reach an international agreement to abolish all military aid within, for example, three years.
Regulate the arms trade: The five largest arms exporters (all permanent members of the Security Council) control 86% of the market for conventional arms destined for developing countries, which include the world’s poorest countries, especially Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. It is also deplorable that, in the last ten years, 40% of conventional heavy weapons exports have been sent to the hottest spots on the globe. The United Nations could set up a mechanism which would make it possible: to maintain a list of sophisticated weapons and technologies whose export is prohibited; to improve the register of armaments; to regulate and eliminate the use of explicit or hidden subsidies for the export of armaments; to tax arms sales to finance peacekeeping.
Define the conditions for a new dialogue on aid policy: many donor countries or agencies are afraid that their aid will be used to buy arms. However, no coherent policy or system of international coordination has yet been defined.
Develop UN mediation criteria for intra-state conflicts. Recently, the United Nations has been called upon to intervene in internal conflicts, which has raised sensitive issues of sovereignty. Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter would need to be re-examined and expanded.
Imagine more effective information systems: there are considerable information gaps on military expenditure, arms shipments, arms production, military aid, arms export subsidies, military bases and military debt.
Peace dividends – Reducing military expenditure is only half the battle. The other half is to devote the resources saved entirely to human development. From 1987 to 1994, most of these savings seem to have been devoted to reducing budget deficits and financing non-developmental expenditures. The first task is therefore to isolate these dividends in a special place within national budgets. This fund could be used to reduce public deficits, to finance the cost of military conversion, and to invest in human development at home and abroad. These national funds could be complemented by a global demilitarization fund, as suggested by Nobel Peace Prize winner (1987) Oscar Arias.
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