Spring 2024

War in the 21st Century: What Can It Accomplish?

Temple University (in person at Gladfelter Hall, 10th Floor, Global Studies Lounge)

February 23-24, 2024

* The entire event will also be available live via Zoom. *

Keynote Speakers

James Pattison (Professor of Politics, University of Manchester)

“Ukraine, Opportunity Costs, and Military Assistance”

Russia’s war against Ukraine is just one of numerous global challenges with which the world is faced. There are several other large-scale conflicts occurring, forced displacement continues to rise, global poverty remains entrenched, millions die from disease each year, and the globe is warming at a dangerous rate. Despite these challenges, Western states have, by and large, prioritised the war, and especially the provision of military assistance to Ukraine, at least prior to the onset of the Israel-Hamas war in late 2023. There has been little discussion of the opportunity costs of this support. Should the many billions of dollars spent on military aid to Ukraine have been spent elsewhere instead? This paper will explore this issue, first setting out the prima facie case against assisting Ukraine militarily due to the opportunity costs, drawing on an underlying theory of just prioritisation. It will then explore – and largely reject – various responses, including that military assistance is required to protect Ukrainian self-determination and needed to stop the march of authoritarianism. The paper will conclude by presenting the general implications for the extent to which states should prioritise military aid over other means of addressing global challenges.

Yvonne Chiu (Associate Professor of Strategy and Policy, U.S. Naval War College)

Ethics of War Termination

As soon as the current Russia-Ukraine and Hamas-Israel wars started, policymakers and commentators began talking about exit strategies and ending these wars.  The seeds of the next war are always found in the last war, so how these wars end will be critical.  There can be no end to a war unless all sides hold mutual or compatible conceptions of what it means to be victorious:  how victory is decided and who decides.  These, in turn, rest on particular conceptions of the scope, nature, and function of warfare.  If there is no mutual understanding of a theory of victory, then there must be at least compatible understandings between antagonists.  What does victory in war decide:  a narrow geopolitical claim?  degree of international influence?  designation of honor or prestige?  questions of right?  Even with a shared theory of victory, simultaneous cooperation on other aspects of warfare will make it harder to bring about peace, much less a sustainable one.

Conference Description

With the war in Ukraine closing in on the two-year mark, it remains frustratingly unclear how it might end. Outright victory looks more and more unlikely, and surrender seems to be off the table. What might count as success, if not victory? What can Ukraine and its allies aim to achieve by continuing to fight? Are there alternative ways of securing these ends? Answering questions such as these will help to determine the shape of the war, and crucially, when we can think of the war as over.

The U.S. itself was forced to consider similar questions in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Looking back, we can examine how the U.S.’s war aims evolved, in Afghanistan from 2001-2021, and in Iraq from 2003-2011. What was the U.S. able to achieve? Can we make retrospective judgments about whether it was worth fighting those wars? Are there lessons to be learned from Afghanistan and Iraq, that should guide our involvement in Ukraine?

The U.S. experience in Ukraine, Iraq, and Afghanistan raise pressing questions for theorists of war and peace. How should the nature of modern warfare, and the global erosion of democratic norms, affect the way we theorize about the permissible aims of a just war?


Kyle Brown (University of Pennsylvania)

“Just War Traditions and the Problem of Good-Enough AI”

Policymakers and scholars are increasingly focusing on the possibility of artificial general intelligence, but current machine learning tools and autonomous weapons are already exposing problems for major just war traditions. As machines begin to make more decisions without real-time human input, they seem to take on many of the properties of human combatants. These decisions involve just war questions of distinction, proportionality, and military necessity. Can existing just war traditions effectively respond to the challenges posed by machines that increasingly behave like, but do not yet think like, human combatants? Or must just war theorists develop new models that account for these emergent technologies that are both different from previous kinds of weapons but not yet fully sentient?

Ned Dobos (University of New South Wales)

“Faith in Force”

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, military force is still widely considered to be more reliably effective than non-violent alternatives. Why might this be? I argue that double standards are part of the explanation. When non-violence fails, this tends to be seen as proof of the ineffectiveness of non-violence. When violence fails, by contrast, this is only taken to show that it can be used poorly, not that it is inherently ineffective. Hence even though most Americans regard their military’s recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as abject failures, most Americans continue to have more confidence in their military than in any other social institution. If anything, confidence in the armed forces is trending upwards. One would expect two decades of admitted failure to have some negative bearing on the perceived likelihood of military success moving forward, but instead predictions of future performance have been severed off from appraisals of past performance. I call this the effectiveness asymmetry. The paper considers possible explanations for the persistence of this intellectual error, and highlights some of its real-world consequences. 

Shawn Graves (University of Findlay)

“War and Meaning in Life”

Some have claimed that war in the 21st century can supply meaning, perhaps even significant meaning, for those engaged in such military pursuits. In this paper, I evaluate this claim. First, I argue against the view that an impactful life of belonging and purpose is a meaningful life. Then, I present and argue against other ways one might think that war makes for a meaningful life, including personal fulfillment, life-coherence, and the display of personal virtue. Finally, I sketch a more plausible way of thinking about meaning in life and suggest that on this view, there’s still trouble for the view that war can supply meaning in life.

Eliora Henzler (via Zoom)

In classical just war theory, a state using war as a last resort to defend their sovereignty has been presented as a paradigmatic case of jus ad bellum. This presentation examines the contradictions this permission causes, using our common-sense limitations on the use of violence by entities other than states. We think that while self-defense against oppression or an existential threat may result in killing, the creation of an ethical space where killing for the political aim of maintaining sovereignty becomes necessary is an ethical failure: failure to resort to other means, failure to compromise. It then considers the claim that only states can initiate a war to defend their sovereignty, because they hold a special value and the international order depends on states’ mutual respect for sovereignty. We would still need to show that the demarcation of people in states is coherent or useful to human flourishing. Instead, I think it shows that as long as we have states and borders, we will have the wars that characterize them. 

Graham Parsons (U.S. Military Academy at West Point)

“Masculine Ignorance and Military Strategy”

This paper argues that two common military strategic errors—the failure to distinguish strategic victory from operational victory and the supposed tension between strategic victory and tactical restraint—are expressions of a deeply culturally embedded and widespread phenomenon. These failures are expressions of what many commentators have called a faith in military force. This faith can be easily linked with what Tom Digby calls the “faith in masculine force” that is exhibited across most cultures. Building on this idea, I treat the faith in military force as a symptom of a broader gendered social structure that fosters ignorance of a wide array of historical and social phenomena. Similar to the way many scholars have conceptualized white ignorance, I propose the concept of “masculine ignorance” and argue that, among other things, it explains the faith in military force exhibited in the above common failures of strategic thinking. If this is true, then raising awareness of and challenging the nefarious features of masculinity should be a central goal for those interested in achieving a more secure world.

Cheyney Ryan (Oxford)

“Just War Theory After Gaza”

I shall (attempt to) do three things: sketch an account of the war system, drawing on my forthcoming book Political Pacifism As War Abolitionism; compare this focus to the current concerns of just war theory, with special reference to the privileging of war building over war making; relate these larger points to the current conflict in Gaza.

Chad Van Schoelandt (Tulane University)

“Peace-mongers of the Open Society”

The Open Society is a social type characterized by the rule of law, individual liberties, and autocatalytic diversity. I will argue that The Open Society has important mechanisms for cultivating peace within the society and between it and other societies. Importantly, inner and outer peace are related, for the culture of peace within the daily interactions of an open society instills in members the habits and practices that facilitate managing larger-scale.

Regina Surber (University of Zurich)

“Do Wars Fought According to the Just War Framework

Promote Peace?”

Just war theory defines peace such that it is necessarily achievable: paradigmatically, peace is the state of affairs realized via the victory of the belligerent party that pursues the just cause in the war. Given that during such a state of peace, just causes for new wars can arise again, such a peace is not durable. The presentation introduces two alternative concepts of peace, personal inner peace understood as a state of sufficient tranquility and positive emotions, and durable interstate peace in which the risks of just causes for new wars arising are minimized. The presentation then argues that any war – also just wars fought according to the presently legally codified rules of ius in bello – both requires artificial social mechanisms and entails personal and societal harm that undermine inner peace and that do not promote durable interstate peace. The presentation draws on a variety of individual and collective psychological research and does not take on an exclusively philosophical approach.


The schedule is available here.


This conference is generously sponsored by The Ira Lawrence Family Fund based in the Philosophy Department at Temple University, the Global Studies Program at Temple University, the Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium, and the Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy at Temple University.


There is no conference fee, but registration is required.