Review: “The Ethics of War and Peace. An Introduction” by Helen Frowe

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UN soldiers in Rwanda 1994 (Original Title: 19/52: Rwanda; part of the photo project “52 légo” by Eric Constantineau used under license CC BY-NC 2.0.)

The 2nd edition of Helen Frowe’s work “The Ethics of War and Peace. An Introduction” was published by Routledge in 2016. Frowe is Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Stockholm and director of the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace.

The 280 pages volume covers in the first 5 chapters the typical major questions of the ethics of war and peace and starts with a general introduction to justification of self-defense as a foundation for the following chapter on the justification of killing in war. The 3rd chapter explains the conditions for the legitimacy of war (jus ad bellum), while the 4th chapter gives attention to the specific issues of pre-emptive, preventive and punitive wars and humanitarian interventions. In the 5th chapter follows a short overview on the conduct in war (jus in bello).

From chapter 6 onwards, Frowe outlines some special issues starting with an introduction to the ongoing debate on the moral status of combatants (Michael Walzer/Jeff McMahan), followed by two chapters (7&8) on non-combatant immunity. Chapters 9 and 10 deal with the contemporary issue of terrorism and the last two chapters cover remote warfare (ch. 11) and moral obligations after war (jus post bellum) (ch. 12).

Because of the wide range of different topics, which are discussed on 20 – 30 pages per chapter, only the fundamental issues of each can be considered. But together with the annotated literature at the end of each chapter, plus the bibliography and index at the end of the book, this introduction is a very good starting point for anyone with an interest in the covered topics.

But Frowe’s introduction has one (almost) blind spot: As Professor for Practical Philosophy her introduction covers the ethics of war and peace from a strict moral philosophical perspective, concentrating exclusively on philosophical reasoning and contributors from this discipline. Therefore the historical and theological background of the discussed topics are are not taken into account. Here are two examples: At the beginning of the chapter on the just war theory Frowe mentions Augustine of Hippo as an “early just war theorist” (p. 53) just once but gives no further information on the historical development of the theory or at least a reference to relevant literature for further reading. The chapters on the doctrine of double effect (1&7) don’t even make any reference to the historical background of the concept such as the work of Thomas of Aquinas or to relevant literature. Obviously one can’t expect such a short introduction to a wide field of applied ethics giving a full account on the relevant historical backgrounds, while at the same time dealing with so many different topics. But ignoring the historical background altogether creates the impression that the historical background is of no importance, whereby I would disagree.

Nevertheless, the introduction by Helen Frowe to the ethics of war and peace is a very instructive starting point to a variety of fascinating topics as long as one keeps in mind that there are more relevant perspectives than a moral philosophical one.


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