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C H A P T E R 1 6 The Wager Lost by Winning? On the ‘‘Triumph’’ of the Just War Tradition Nicholas Rengger THE PERIOD SINCE THE END of World War II, and most especially from the 1970s to the present, has seen a revival of normative theorizing about war unparalleled since the seventeenth century. And in the main, such theorizing has tended to fellow relatively well-worn paths. Both explicitly religious and, especially, secular theorizing have focused to a very large extent on working broadly within the parameters of the just war tradition, the most influential European tradition of thought connected with the ethical evaluation of war. This is even true where (as in some recent cosmopolitan work) the tradition is also greatly reworked and true also in the worlds of political rhetoric and military law, as witnessed by the constant recitation of central in bello principles by senior allied officers in Afghanistan and Iraq and by the regular invocation of the tradition by politicians of many different stripes (e.g., think of Tony Blair’s 1999 Chicago speech). Thus, it is perhaps understandable that for many, the just war tradition can be seen to have triumphed as the appropriate moral language for the evaluation of the use of force in the modern period, as it did—at least formally—in late medieval and early modern times in Europe. Indeed, in their introduction to this volume, in discussing a ‘‘state of the art’’ in the tradition, Tony Lang and Cian O’Driscoll argue that ‘‘the just war tradition is the predominant moral language through which we address questions pertaining to the rights and wrongs of the use of force in international society. . . . It furnishes us with a set of concepts, principles, and analytical devices for making sense of the moral-legal questions that war raises.’’ 283 284 Nicholas Rengger They emphasize further that ‘‘the just war tradition is central to the practice of international relations. Its influence is evident in the legal codes that govern how modern militaries perform their duties, and it has featured prominently in the rhetoric surrounding the war on terror and the recent invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.’’ And thus they conclude that the tradition reflects an enduring effort to sustain the idea that, even when he finds himself in the trenches, man occupies a moral world. As such, the tradition should not be misconstrued as a simple techne or set of guidelines stipulating what is permissible in war. Rather, it comprises a tradition of political theory that invites us to think about war in a philosophical register. It challenges us to peer beyond the possibility of a narrowly defined ‘‘ethics of war,’’ toward a broader engagement with the practice of rules and responsibilities, and rights and duties, as they relate to the violent edge of world politics. Underpinning this is a sustained inquiry into the relation between the use of force in international life and political authority understood as a practice. There is much in this, of course, with which I am sure we would all agree: that would certainly be true in my own case. But there are also some reasons for being rather more skeptical about some of these claims, and in this chapter it is this skepticism—my differences, in other words, with Lang and O’Driscoll, rather than my agreements with them—on which I want to dwell. One disagreement, in particular , will occupy me just below, but let me start by flagging a couple of other areas where I have some doubts. In the first place, whereas it is true that in Europe and its cultural analogues elsewhere the just war tradition is probably ‘‘a predominant moral language through which we address questions pertaining to the rights and wrongs of the use of force,’’ it is hardly the only one. There was much sneering on the part of some (so-called) neoconservative theorists and (indeed) policymakers at the time of the Iraq invasion and before, about the just war tradition and its antiquated sense of ‘‘playing by the rules.’’ Victor Davis Hanson’s An Autumn of War, written during the campaign in Afghanistan in late 2001, spoke for many in its contempt for the tradition, and there were many other (in my view rather risible) references to the need for a ‘‘pagan ethos’’ (or what have you) to govern the use of force in the twenty-first century.1 Not, of course...


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