Friday, August 20, 2021

Daniel Brunstetter's "Just and Unjust Uses of Limited Force"

Daniel Brunstetter is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Tensions of Modernity: Las Casas and His Legacy in the French Enlightenment (2012), and co-editor of two edited volumes that cover a variety of themes related to the ethics of war: The Ethics of War and Peace Revisited: Moral Challenges in an Era of Contested and Fragmented Sovereignty (2018) and Just War Thinkers: From Cicero to the 21st Century (2017).

Brunstetter applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Just and Unjust Uses of Limited Force: A Moral Argument with Contemporary Illustrations, and reported the following:
From page 99:
"My people are afraid; these armed men move through the villages all the time trying to recruit our youth and turn us to their religion. Even yesterday people called me in alarm to say the jihadists had come because God had directed them to this or that village. My people feel under pressure from all sides—if they tell the army, they will be executed as informants; if they don’t, the army will think they are collaborators."

What is clear from this description is that the Malian government no longer has a monopoly on the use of force within its sovereign borders, and is incapable of enforcing the laws of the land.

The case of Mali serves to illustrate what contested order looks like. Corinne Dufka, the West Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, interviewed scores of Malian citizens to ascertain why some locals welcome the jihadists to rule:
an equal number of villagers told me they welcomed the presence of the Islamist groups in central Mali; they saw them as a benevolent alternative to a state they associate with predatory and abusive governance. Many seethed as they described Malian army abuses during counterterrorism operations, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions.
The above description paints a picture of contested order in which individuals are caught between vying ideas of order, each laced with a violence that undermines their ability to go about their daily lives. According to Dufka, establishing long-term peace involves regaining control of the area—that is, putting an end to the status of contested order and governing the region in a way that departs from the chain of abuses cited above. “The Malian government,” she reflected, “needs to re-establish its presence in the north so everyone has the basic security needed to go on with their lives.” This is a tall task, to be sure. Limited force—French Special Forces and armed drones—have been part of this re-establishment process insofar as they are used in conjunction with Malian forces to root out jihadist groups.

Dufka’s reflections yield important insights into the best intentions of using limited force. The goal of limited force can be to facilitate a shift from contested order to fractured order, or something better. Hence the re-establishment principle: the view that limited force should be used in conjunction with diplomatic actions that seek to re-establish a new, less violent, order. What should such order look like and who should be at the governing helm? The answer depends on how one defines legitimacy.]
The Page 99 Test works nicely for my book, highlighting three key features the reader will encounter across the seven substantive chapters.

First, it showcases the methodology employed, that of casuistry. The page begins with a quotation from a local mayor in northern Mali, followed soon by a quote from the West African Director at Human Rights Watch. Taken together, these quotes are suggestive of the legitimate purposes limited force might serve or the abuses that could ensue. With a clear nod to Michael Walzer’s emblematic work on just war, casuistry is the choice methodology because it engages what involved actors say and how they reason morally about limited force.

Mali, where drones and special force have been used, is one paradigmatic case that offers illuminating insights explored across the book. Other cases offer new angles from which to view many of the major conflicts of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Other voices–from Egypt, France, India, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, the UK, and the US–help tease the moral maxims that enlighten our understanding of limited force.

A second feature is that of theory-building. The book moves beyond critical appraisals of limited force to tease out a moral framework for adjudicating, as the title suggests, the just and unjust uses. Page 99 falls in the middle of chapter 3, which is the first part of the constructive, theory-building, phase of the book. While most work on just war follows the linear route–the justice of going to war, justice in war, and justice after war–my book begins, somewhat counterintuitively, with the ends.

What can a state hope to accomplish by using limited force? The upshot seems obvious enough: limited force is inherently circumscribed by the very nature of being, well, limited; you cannot seriously envision achieving decisive victory with a no-fly zone, drones, special forces, or limited strikes. This simple observation guides the unfolding of the moral augment in the chapters to come, unveiling restraint-oriented moral intuitions to better adjudicate when it might be just to employ limited force, how to go about doing so, and what to do if limited force fails.

A final feature emerges from the last line of page 99, which betrays skepticism about the justice of recent democracy-building wars. It is noteworthy, as chapter 2 illustrates, that escalation from limited force to war characterized all the major US-led wars–Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya–during 21st century thus far. While the book is not a call for pacifism, by arguing that limited force is strategically and morally distinct from war, it implies we need to be much more skeptical about what “just” war can accomplish.

Whatever the reader might think about the use of military force in its different guises, the examination of real-world cases across the book–and the emergent moral language these reveal–succeeds if it helps us to talk about the dilemmas, permissions, and restraints related to limited force with greater moral precision.
Learn more about Just and Unjust Uses of Limited Force at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue