Proportionality, Just War Theory, and Weapons Design

Proportionality, Just War Theory, and Weapons Design

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3984-1.ch008
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The author believes that the most plausible justification for weapons design amounts to the claim that it is needed for the prosecution of a just war. This chapter addresses this attempt and argues that it does not succeed. The reason why has to do directly with the general criterion that any justification must satisfy. It does so because a just war, according to Just War Theory, must be a proportionate response to aggression, and what this means is that the basic costs of the war—namely, the harms caused—must be seen to be proportionate to those mitigated. The author argues that when it comes to weapons design, this condition cannot be satisfied.
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Just War Theory (JWT) sets out the conditions under which it is morally permissible to go the war (jus ad bellum) and imposes limits on the ways in which wars can be fought (jus in bello). JWT can be formulated in (slightly) different ways, but on the whole I think it is a good account of the morality of war, of what must be the case before war is morally permissible. I do not, however, believe that those who actually make decisions about when and how to wage war do so grounds that are informed by or based on JWT, or on any other moral considerations. When it comes to war, or other relations between states, I think that the Realist view of International Relations is to be preferred. According to Realism, the international arena is an anarchical ‘society’ of states, with each pursuing what it perceives to be its own self-interest, in ways that it thinks best preserves and furthers those interests. In a noteworthy statement by a famous International Relations scholar “…no ethical standards are applicable to the relations between states” (Carr 1946: 153). This is what one would expect if states are only concerned with their own interests, and hence do not limit their actions in view of the interests of others unless this will affect their own self-interest. It is nevertheless possible that a war is just from the perspective of one combatant - only one side at most can have just cause – and that as a matter of fact the conditions of the theory happen to be satisfied, as opposed to statesmen (statespeople?) making sure that they are. In this sense, JWT seems more useful for making retrospective judgements about past wars, than as guidance for those who make the decision to wage war.1 I will have more to say about realism in the next chapter.

If JWT is a theory about the conditions in which war is permissible, then it would seem that it would be the most likely resource for generating principles that would support justifications about wartime weapons design, such as were discussed in Chapter 6. Whether or not wartime weapons design is justified will depend, presumably, on whether the war during which it is conducted is itself justified, and that weapons research to further the aims of a just war would appear to be the only justifiable candidate. Weapons design conducted to further an unjust war of aggression could surely not be justified. But if the previous remarks about JWT and Realism are correct, then it seems difficult to see how or why weapons designers could appeal to JWT to justify taking part in a weapons research project: if it is only possible to make an objective judgement about the war after it is over and if those who make decisions about going to war routinely disregard ‘ethical standards’, there seems to be no way out. If this were the only way in which the weapons designer could justify what she does, then weapons design in wartime will be proscribed: moral agents will not willingly and voluntarily engage in moral wrongdoing unless they have reason to believe they are permitted to do so at the time at which they must commit themselves to the act in question. It will be recalled that the onus is now on the weapons designer only to engage in weapons research if this is permissible, because it has been established that weapons research is morally wrong. This is, of course, also true of war: the killing and destruction that war entails is morally wrong and hence moral agents must have adequate justification if they are to take part voluntarily, namely good reasons to believe that the war is just. I believe that the weapons designer has ‘no way out’, that she cannot justify her participation in weapons research, as we shall see in this chapter and the next.

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