Thursday, September 3, 2020

Ned Dobos's "Ethics, Security, and The War-Machine"

Ned Dobos is Senior Lecturer in International and Political Studies at The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy. He is the author of Insurrection and Intervention: The Two Faces of Sovereignty (2012) and co-editor of Challenges for Humanitarian Intervention: Ethical Demand and Political Reality (2018).

Dobos applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Ethics, Security, and The War-Machine: The True Cost of the Military, and reported the following:
Whether or not going to war is morally justified depends, in part, on whether the expected benefits of the war would outweigh its foreseen costs. Is the death and destruction “worth it”? This is the principle of proportionality. Page 99 makes the observation that, due to a well-documented psychological bias known as “hostile attribution error”, government officials will usually fail to accord sufficient weight to enemy combatant and civilian lives in their proportionality calculations.

The moral of the story is supposed to be this: Political decision-makers, even if they are sincerely committed to never waging “unjust wars”, will probably still wage them sometimes, on account of the unconscious biases that warp human judgment. Therefore, the military is an instrument that is very likely to be misused by the state. Since this point does not come across clearly on page 99, the test does not amount to a particularly good browser’s shortcut on this occasion. To be sure, the test does give the reader a sample of the kinds of evidence and argumentation to be found in the book, but it does not provide the reader with a clear sense of the conclusions that the book reaches.

Militaries certainly benefit their parent societies in various ways, but they are also incredibly costly institutions—financially, environmentally, morally, and culturally—not to mention dangerous. Because of this, some countries (most notably Costa Rica) have decided to unilaterally demilitarize. I am not saying that all countries should do the same. But all thoughtful citizens should understand the costs and risks associated with their national armed forces, and openly debate whether these costs are really worth bearing.
Learn more about Ethics, Security, and The War-Machine at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue