Making Peace with the Devil: The Problem of Ending Just Wars

In this talk, Dr Forster and Dr Taylor will draw attention to an unintended but severe side effect of just war thinking: the fact that it can impose barriers to making peace. Investigating historical material concerning a series of conflicts in China during the early twentieth century, the speakers suggest that operating in a just war framework might change actors’ identities and interests in a way that makes peacemaking an unavailable action. But since just war theory places significant normative constraints on how long wars can be continued, it might thus be self-defeating, in the sense that those who adopt it may undermine the very goals which it is supposed to serve. Whether this finding calls for a revision of existing ethical frameworks governing warfare will depend on whether there are possible alternatives to just war theory that perform better at reining in unjust violence.

Elisabeth Forster is lecturer in Chinese history at the University of Southampton. She is working on Chinese discourses on war and peace in the long 20th century and has published on the topic in Modern China and Cold War History. Her first monograph, on the ways in which Chinese culture was transformed over the course of the year 1919, was published with De Gruyter in 2018 under the title 1919—The Year That Changed China: A New History of the New Culture Movement. Her current book project, A Peaceful Nation? China’s Peacefulness Claim from the 19th Century to the Present, explores the changing concepts of war and peace in China across different governments, localities and social groups.

Isaac Taylor is an associate senior lecturer in practical philosophy at Stockholm University. He works primarily in applied ethics and political philosophy. His current project investigates how states can provide security both effectively and ethically, especially at a time when governments are increasingly turning to private companies and AI systems in efforts to ensure the safety of their populations. His monograph, The Ethics of Counterterrorism, was published with Routledge in 2018. His current book project, The Responsibility Gap: Maintaining Control in an AI Society, examines how technological change might undermine democracy and what we can do about it.