Is there a Future for ‘Jus ex Bello’?

Photo credit: Jayel Aheram / Foter / CC BY

This article discusses the future potential of a norm that emerged recently from the academic literature surrounding the ethics of war, and that echoes a number of political and moral viewpoints around the necessity of terminating ongoing and bloody wars that otherwise are unnecessarily prolonged: the norm of ‘jus ex bello’. While it argues in favor of a possibilistic approach to norms – in order to argue why norms should develop, it is necessary to analyze whether they could develop – this article finds that jus ex bello might be an appropriate response to some of the arguments in favor of the need for normative change in warfare. However, four major obstacles to this potential innovation are identified, grounded in cultural history, politics, morality and cognition. Based on the further examination of these, the article goes on to make suggestions for institutional design initiatives, in themselves dependent on possible significant social and cultural evolution, that would favor normative change and the development of jus ex bello.

It is important to find institutional responses to the unnecessary prolongation of conflicts. Jus ex bello, a new norm complementary to the existing set of rules on the ethics of war, could meet these expectations and provide guidelines to assist the decision to end a war. This vision is based on a future-oriented approach to the ethics of war and international justice.
States should deliberate over quantitative criteria that would provide thresholds to signal the need to put an end to ongoing conflicts. They would notably seek to monitor proportionality as the war unfolds.
States would develop indicators to be used as moral estimates of wars' prolongation disutility. Independent experts would work on these and act as ‘moral rating agencies’. Tools such as predictive markets could also be used in order to assess the future damage that would result from the prolongation of conflicts.
Based on this future-oriented assessment, economic sanctions could be enforced, while incentives could be provided to those who would be willing to stop fighting. In some cases military intervention might be appropriate as a means of imposing an end to fighting.
A bottom-up approach is also needed. It is important to change the culture of warfare and the ethos of combatants. This would necessitate the education of a new elite in the NGO world as well as within military and international organizations. Patriotic sacrifice should not be a core value of the military, and the ethics of war should reward other moral traits such as restraint.