Pacifism is the view that waging war is never justified. Military abolitionism is the view that the existence of a war-making institution is not justified. In the book I try to philosophical de-couple these two positions; to show that one can be an abolitionist without being a pacifist. David Rodin does not deny this, but he thinks the same considerations that support abolitionism can be extended, via the principle of necessity, to support pacifism.
Rodin offers the following example to illustrate. You are a doctor supporting an expedition in a remote territory. One of your patients develops an infection in his leg. The only way to save his life if to amputate, so that is what you do. Without being given further information we would be confident saying that you did the right thing here.
But now suppose that if you had only brought some antibiotics along on the expedition, the amputation would not have been necessary. And (importantly) your reason for leaving the antibiotics behind was an unequivocally bad one (ie. you are a ‘penicillin sceptic’). This complicates matters. Now we think you are blameworthy. Your negligent failure to bring antibiotics on the trip, Rodin says, “reaches forward and contaminates with culpability” an action (the amputation) that would not otherwise have been culpable.
If some of the key claims made in support of military abolitionism are true, Rodin says, then otherwise justified uses of military force might be similarly contaminated.
Suppose a state is attacked by a neighbour, and it has no recourse other than to use military force to defend itself. But the reason the state has no other recourse is that it has declined to make any investments in non-violent arrangements for national defence, despite proof of their effectiveness. Is this state’s use of military force not culpable, despite being “necessary” in a narrow sense, just as in the amputation cases?
Ultimately, the answer is going to depend on whether we agree that a state’s decision not to invest in the alternatives is indeed culpable.
One might try to deny it, for any number of reasons: because creating a whole new defence system would extremely (prohibitively?) costly and disruptive; because creating some such system would conflict with pre-existing commitments and obligations (to domestic agents or allies); or because such systems contain hidden dangers (see Christopher Finlay’s contribution to this symposium).
Whatever the particulars of the argument, as long as one can say that states have some good reason notto invest in civilian-based alternatives, then one can also deny that a decision to use force where it is the only feasible option is morally contaminated by earlier decisions in the way Rodin describes.
Whether states have an obligation to abolish their militaries and/or invest in alternatives are what I would call jus ante bellum questions, or questions of justice before war. Rodin, perhaps more fittingly, describes them as questions of policy between periods of conflict. And he thinks that there is potentially a whole new area of ethical inquiry here, where we ask not only whether states should have militaries, but also how militaries should be structured and run. This would cover everything from procurement and training to military diplomacy to mobilisation.
If other researchers do decide to turn their attention to matters of justice before/between war, there are more than a few questions that I think are in urgent need of attention. In closing I will just flag just one and hope that others add to the list.
As discussed in the first chapter of my book, military conditioning is morally damaging not by accident, but by design. Combat training is aimed at making recruits more comfortable with killing, so that they can do it repeatedly and efficiently in battle. But being desensitised in this way is not a morally virtuous state for a person to be in. My question is: Do governments have any obligation to restore the moral faculties of their desensitised military personnel post-discharge, and if so, what would that even look like?