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The borders of a just war.

Williams, J. (2007) 'The borders of a just war.', Working Paper. Durham University, School of Government and International Affairs, Durham.


This paper aims to contribute to the contemporary debate about Just War in a, hopefully, distinctive fashion. It seeks to map out (pun intended) a claim about the problematic nature of the way in which Just War theory has responded to the two main challenges surrounding the ethics of violence in international relations since the end of the Cold War – namely the debates about humanitarian intervention and the ‘war on terror’. The claim, and the pun, revolve around the understanding of the role and nature of territory in international politics, and specifically Just War theorists’ debates about these two challenges. In particular, the paper looks at a privileging of the territorial, bordered state in contemporary Just War debate in order to suggest how it is that non-state based political forms, projects and activities are marginalised in analysis and also ethically disadvantaged. Whilst we may well go along with the ethical condemnation of fundamentalist ‘jihadist’ versions, or perversions, of Islam, that kind of project – non-territorial, at least in the conventional sense, and separate from state-based conceptions of citizenship as the ethically ideal political relationship between individual and political authority, cannot gain a foothold within Just War’s response to changing patterns of violence. The paper proceeds in four principal stages. The first outlines the ‘triumph’ of Just War theory in shaping ethico-political responses to humanitarian intervention and the war on terror. This has generated some insightful and highly sophisticated thinking, developing the ancient tradition of Just War in appealing and intriguing ways. Critics, and there are more than the few this paper samples, have responded with some effective arguments of their own, but, in general, the paper argues in its second section, they have also missed out on the significance of scale and space for this issue. This is not to deny that they score some important points against Just War theory and the particular ways it is used in the contemporary debates about intervention and anti-terrorism. Here, the paper starts to outline the ideas of territory, scale and space that are important to its critique of Just War. It also shows how debates about scale are influencing other approaches to the changing patterns of violence in international relations. The relationship between space, scale and ethics is the principal subject of the paper’s third section, bringing in work in political geography and critical geopolitics in order to demonstrate the extent of the critique of ‘Westphalian’ territorial thinking that, I argue, is inherent and unquestioned in Just War debates. Finally, the paper turns to the ways in which this unreflective approach to the ethics of territory works to privilege the state in contemporary developments of Just War and why this is a price that should not be paid unthinkingly. A more open-minded, or at least considered, approach to ethics and territory within Just War holds out the possibility of a response to these challenges that is more intellectually fleet of foot and also better positioned to respond positively to alternative ethico-political conceptions of the role of territory in international relations, conceptions that are often highlighted as of growing relevance and significance in other areas of the discipline and practice of international politics.

Item Type:Monograph (Working Paper)
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Record Created:28 Jun 2007
Last Modified:20 Oct 2010 12:36

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