Ethics & International Affairs

Special Section: Just War and Its Critics

From Jus ad Bellum to Jus ad Vim: Recalibrating Our Understanding of the Moral Use of Force

Daniel Brunstetter and Megan Braun

In the preface of the 2006 edition of Just and Unjust Wars, Michael Walzer makes an important distinction between, on the one hand, “measures short of war,” such as imposing no-fly zones, pinpoint air/missile strikes, and CIA operations, and on the other, “actual warfare,” typified by a ground invasion or a large-scale bombing campaign. Even if the former are, technically speaking, acts of war according to international law, he proffers that “it is common sense to recognize that they are very different from war.” While they all involve “the use of force,” Walzer distinguishes between the level of force used: the former, being more limited in scope, lack the “unpredictable and often catastrophic consequences” of a “full-scale attack.” Walzer calls the ethical framework governing these measures jus ad vim (the just use of force), and he applies it to state-sponsored uses of force against both state and nonstate actors outside a state's territory that fall short of the quantum and duration associated with traditional warfare. Compared to acts of war, jus ad vim actions present diminished risk to one's own troops, have a destructive outcome that is more predictable and smaller in scale, severely curtail the risk of civilian casualties, and entail a lower economic and military burden. These factors make jus ad vim actions nominally easier for statesmen to justify compared to conventional warfare, though this does not necessarily mean these actions are morally legitimate or that they do not have potentially nefarious consequences.

Daniel Brunstetter is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. He has published on the just war tradition and modern political philosophy in Political Studies, International Relations, Review of Politics, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. His current research interests concern the moral issues raised when using military force short of war–particularly drones–which is the subject of his latest book project. [email protected]

Megan Braun is a Rhodes Scholar and an MPhil candidate in International Relations at Oxford University, where her research focuses on the interaction among technology, law, and the just war tradition. She was an intern at the New America Foundation during summer 2012, where she worked to revise and update its drone database. She has published on drones on CNN and in Ethics & International Affairs, and is a regular contributor to Foreign Policy's “The Afpak Channel.” [email protected]