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Incentives to improve national security and win conflicts have often led to the development and use of new and more destructive technologies of war.And yet, especially since World War II, very strong incentives have also existed to prohibit aggression and promote self-defense, to encourage legal and moral constraints on violence in war to protect noncombatants, and to punish soldiers and political leaders whose actions are judged to be war crimes.
New technologies also have been developed, however, that can provide early warning of civil conflict and promote more effective peacekeeping operations.
On the political front, the growth of terrorism by nonstate actors, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and changing doctrines in the United Nations about the responsibility to protect civilians pose new questions about the appropriate legal rules and ethical norms governing decisions to use military force.
Technological innovations, the growth of terrorism by nonstate actors, and new legal and ethical approaches are changing the nature of modern warfare.
Cutting-edge technologies—drones, cyber weapons, autonomous weapons—could reduce collateral damage, but their ease of use could also breed more conflict by lowering the political costs of engagement.
To what degree does the development of offensive and defensive cyber capabilities by many militaries and nonstate actors around the globe challenge the principles of just war doctrine and the laws of armed conflict? At the 2005 United Nations World Summit, the heads of states accepted a collective responsibility to respond effectively if any government failed to protect its own people from the horrors of genocide, ethnic cleansing, large-scale war crimes, or other crimes against humanity.
Two essays focus on an older military technology that has produced what are still the most destructive weapons known to mankind: nuclear weapons. Jennifer Welsh examines the current standing and future trajectory of the responsibility to protect doctrine, which has been severely challenged by such events as the collapse of the Libyan state into chaos after the 2011 NATO-led military intervention, on humanitarian grounds, against the Gaddafi government, and the Syrian civil war, which began soon thereafter.
But the promotion of these principles and the development of the institutions to enforce them were strong enough that Walzer, in an important 2002 article, declared that there had been a “triumph of just war theory,” although he rightly also warned about “the dangers of success.” Among these dangers of success are overconfidence, complacency, and a failure to understand that new technologies can create new dilemmas regarding ethics and war. This issue of addresses how new technologies and political conditions create both challenges and opportunities in the prevention of war and constraint of violence within war.
The issue begins with three essays assessing how specific emerging military technologies are influencing current and potential operations in war.
Like all laws, of course, the laws of war are not always followed.
And like all ethical principles, just war principles are often violated.