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Category: War Page 1 of 3

Israel “Is at War with Hamas”, What Does the Ethics of War Say about That?

This is a guest post by Anh Le. Anh currently works in the NGO sector on environmental issues but previously taught at the University of Manchester, where he also got his PhD, writing on the ethics of force short of war.

It’s important to note at the outset that what unfolded on Saturday October 7th in Southern Israel when Hamas fighters overran the Israel – Gaza border, infiltrated deep into Israeli territory, murdered more than a thousand Israelis, and took more than a hundred hostages back across Gaza was a war crime (or at least most of it was, the killing of Israeli soldiers, even if most of them were unarmed can be argued to be the legitimate targeting of combatants in an armed conflict). Equally important to note is how the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has responded to the initial attack also violates the International Humanitarian Law, e.g. the blockade of Gaza, indiscriminate bombings of residential areas. At the time of writing, the IDF hasn’t officially conducted a land invasion of Gaza, although some ground incursions have occurred. In this post, I argue that, contrary to what has been taken as a fact – that Israel has the right to go to war against Hamas following its attack on Israel and the only question that is morally, and legally, relevant is how they go about doing that, a question of jus in bello – it’s not clear if Israel’s war meets the criteria of jus ad bellum – the right to go war, and thus if Israel has a right to go to war against Hamas.

I should first make clear that I will not weigh in on the ethics of the situation between Israel and Palestine. The history is protracted and there are others eminently more qualified to unpack it than myself.

Is there a place for mercenaries in the future of war?

A photograph showing group of young people standing in front of a tank being transported through the Russian city Rostov-on-Don by Wagner Group mercenaries.
People standing in front of a Wagner Group tank in Rostov-on-Don, 24 June 2023. Fargoh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

They have been active in Ukraine since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, and in Syria as early as 2013 (in the form of predecessor, the Slavonic Corps). They have significant presence in countries including the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali. But it is their involvement in the invasion of Ukraine since early 2022 that has pushed the Wagner Group into headlines across the globe. Now, especially after the abortive mutiny in late June, everyone knows who they are.

However, Wagner Group, though perhaps especially brutal, and especially shadowy, is far from unique. From Aegis to G4S to Blackwater (now Academi), recent conflicts have seen an increasing number private contractors take on logistics, training and even security and combat roles. (Though in the case of Wagner, it’s somewhat questionable how “private” they really were). It’s the latter, often called mercenaries, which are particularly controversial. But what are mercenaries, and how worried should we be about their proliferation?

Ukraine Benefit Conference: ‘What Good is Philosophy? The Role of the Academy in a Time of Crisis’

Aaron Wentland (Vision Fellow in Public Philosophy at King’s College London) is organizing a major online benefit event for the Ukrainian academy on 17 and 18 March, entitled: ‘What Good Is Philosophy? – The Role of the Academy in a Time of Crisis’.

Can a ‘war on poaching’ be just?

A photograph of 5 men in combat uniform with automatic rifles crouching in tall grass. A sixth man is dressed more informally and explaining something to one of the men.

Rangers in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park on a training exercise.

The illegal wildlife trade is worth billions, and is one of the most lucrative crime networks globally. Illegal hunting can have a devastating effect on the environment and biodiversity, with animals being hunted to (near-)extinction in some areas. In response, several countries have adopted policies which allow the shooting of suspected poachers ‘on sight’.

Unsurprisingly, this is a controversial development. Because of the complex nature of the problem, it’s unclear whether these kind of policies are actually effective, and the scope for mistakes (or even abuse) is wide. On the other hand, defenders argue that so-called ‘militarized conservation’ is necessary to protect severely endangered species, or no different from policing in a dangerous environment [cw: linked article contains a graphic photograph of a murdered rhino].

The more fundamental issue at stake here is whether it can be justified to use lethal force against humans, for the sake of protecting (wild) animals. This is a famously thorny issue. One notable critic explicitly takes aim at the idea that it can be acceptable to trade human lives for animal lives. And many in animal rights circles reject the use of violence – for example, the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics will not ‘appoint Fellows who advocate violence’. The idea that killing humans to protect animals can be permissible may also seem quite ludicrous to many in our anthropocentric society. Of course, you might say, aren’t the lives of humans just more important than the lives of animals?

‘Whataboutism’ about justice

There is a growing tendency to label some argumentative moves commonly performed in public discourse as “whataboutism”. A quick search on Google Trends shows that the term has begun to gain more serious traction in 2017, reaching its peak popularity in June 2020 and March 2022 – likely in the context of debates on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, as Ben Zimmer points out, its roots can be identified much earlier on, first as a charge against defenders of the Provisional IRA’s actions during the Troubles and later as a charge against a particular brand of Soviet-style rhetorical strategy. When whataboutism is pointed at in public speech, it is usually done so as to discredit an objection to an argument not by showing that it fails on its own terms, but rather because it constitutes an illegitimate move aimed at deflecting attention from the topic on which the argument is focused. But is whataboutism, especially when it concerns questions of justice, problematic, or – to the contrary – is the charge of whataboutism largely vacuous?

Russian refugees? An argument for politicisation not moralization

This is a guest post written by Felix Bender (Northumbria University). Felix’s research explores who we should recognise as a refugee and here he considers whether we should consider Russian deserters as refugees through a moralised or politicised lens.


“Perhaps the most pressing task of ethics is to warn against morality”. This statement, issued by German Sociologist Niklas Luhmann, rings nowhere as true as it does now. Moralism dominates the day. Political decisions are made based on the imperative of differentiating between the blameworthy and the blameless, between approval and disapproval of persons. You are either good or bad, and this should dictate the political decisions you face. But is moralizing the right reaction to a political problem, or does it create more problems than it solves? Does it help in reacting to political crises, such as posed by the exodus of Russian men of fighting age, or does it lead us astray from wise political decision making? I will argue for the latter. Wise decision making should not consider moralizing arguments. In the following, I will show, that there are politically prudent reasons for admitting Russian deserters as refugees.

Putting a Price on War

This is a guest post by Stanislas Richard. Stan is a research fellow at the Dr. Rachelle Bascara Foundation and is visiting at the Central European University. The post discusses his thoughts on the role of enticements to desert could play in war.


Should we pay soldiers to desert? Should we, for instance, give financial incentives to the Russian soldiers currently invading Ukraine to lay down arms? And what role should such Enticements to Desert (ED) play in peacekeeping and de-escalation policy? This post sketches some answers to these questions.

Child Soldiers: Victims or Perpetrators of Crime?

The existence of children enlisted in armed groups poses difficult questions to moral and political philosophers regarding our assumptions about what childhood is, or the relationship between victimhood and criminality, or autonomy, dependence and vulnerability. This post aims to briefly introduce how discourses on child soldiers can be morally problematic. The post is based on a forthcoming chapter (co-authored by Alexandra Echeverry) on child soldiers in Colombia.

In the movie Monos, a group of teenage guerrilla soldiers guard a kidnapped prisoner, and tend their cow. Through this simple plot, the film portrays the inner tensions, the plurality of roles, and the complex relationships between children in their condition as children, and their status as soldiers. 

On The Decision to Leave Afghanistan

This post is not an assessment of the military performance of the Afghan National Army or whether the American withdrawal made sense politically (or if it could have been planned better). There are more qualified people for that task. What’s lacking in the current discussion is a just war perspective; in other word, a moral assessment of the decision to wrap up our military involvement in Afghanistan. This post offers a tentative analysis of President Biden’s decision to pull out of Afghanistan and, crucially, to do nothing to aid the government of President Ghani when it became evident Kabul would fall.

From the Vault: Collaboration with Journal of Applied Philosophy

While Justice Everywhere takes a break over the summer, we recall some of the highlights from our 2020-21 season. This post focuses on our ongoing collaboration with the Journal of Applied Philosophy.

In 2019, Justice Everywhere began a collaboration with the Journal of Applied Philosophy. The journal is a unique forum that publishes philosophical analysis of problems of practical concern, and several of its authors post accessible summaries of their work on Justice Everywhere. These posts draw on diverse theoretical viewpoints and bring them to bear on a broad spectrum of issues, ranging from the environment and immigration to economics, parenting, and punishment.

For a full list of these posts, visit the JAP page on Justice Everywhere. For a flavour of the range, you might read:

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