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Ethics of Contemporary Warfare




Admission Requirements

Similarly-tagged 100/200-level courses or permission from the instructor.


This module will explore the moral and ethical issues raised by contemporary warfare. In the first part of the course, students will be introduced to the dominant Western frameworks for moral reasoning about the use of force in world politics: pacifism, realism, and the just war tradition. The course will explore the historical and religious roots of these traditions, and the major streams of thinking within them. In the second part of the course, we will focus on the just war tradition, applying its concepts and principles to a range of important issues in contemporary warfare. These will include jus ad bellum questions about non-state actors and anticipatory war; jus in bello questions about torture, supreme emergencies and cyber war; and jus post bellum questions about post-conflict retribution and reconstruction, along with wars that have no clear end. These issues will be explored through case studies drawn from recent conflicts, especially the US-led War on Terror. Students will be encouraged to think about whether the traditions of ethical reasoning about war inherited from earlier generations remain adequate to guide our judgment of contemporary warfare, or whether they need to be revised.

Course Objectives

This module aims to provide a critical exploration of major ethical issues in contemporary warfare in light of the primary Western traditions of moral thinking about war. By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a thorough understanding of the different theoretical approaches employed in the ethics of war – i.e., realism, pacifism, and just war – and their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Describe and problematize the central principles associated with the just war tradition.

  • Analyse historical and contemporary cases in the light of just war principles.

  • Discuss the continuing value (or otherwise) of the just war tradition in the context of contemporary warfare.

  • Demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills; develop the capacity for independent learning, critique major texts and approaches and lead class discussions.


To be confirmed in the course syllabus:
Participation (15%)
Presentation (20%)
Book Review (1000 words, 25%)
Final Research Essay (3000 words, 40%)


Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (NY: Basic Books; 2006);
Alex J. Bellamy, Just Wars: From Cicero to Iraq (Cambridge: Polity, 2006).

Other readings will be provided on Blackboard.

Contact Information

Dr Edmund Frettingham |