James Pattison

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THE LEGITIMACY OF THE MILITARY, Private Military and Security Companies, AND JUST WAR THEORY
  • James Pattison

[Published in European Journal of Political Theory, 2012, 11/2: 131–54.]

Abstract: The legitimacy of the military is frequently overlooked in standard accounts of jus ad bellum. Accordingly, this paper considers how the military should be organised. It proposes a normative conception of legitimacy—the 慚oderate Instrumentalist Approach’—that outlines the qualities that a military should possess. It then assesses the three leading ways of organizing the military according to this approach: the use of private military and security companies (PMSCs), a conscripted force and the all-volunteer force (AVF). The paper argues that the AVF, despite some notable problems, is the most legitimate way of organising the military.
In their accounts of the requirements of jus ad bellum, just war theorists typically assert that war must have legitimate authority. For instance, St Augustine requires that 搕he natural order conducive to human peace demands that the power to counsel and declare war belongs to those who hold the supreme authority1 The legitimate authority principle is generally held to concern those authorising the use of force, notably the state or international institutions. Sometimes this principle is also extended to those waging the war; largely at issue is whether only states and state-based institutions can justifiably resort to or authorise force.2

In their accounts of the legitimate authority criterion, just war theorists tend to overlook the importance of a further, morally significant issue in the ethics of war: the moral legitimacy of the military used to fight the war. In short, who should carry out the war? Should we, for instance, prefer the use of conscripted citizen-soldiers because this is the fairest way of organising the military? Or will an all-volunteer force (AVF), such as that found in the UK and US, be more effective and cohere better with individual autonomy? And should we avoid the employment of private military and security companies (PMSCs)? Although the legitimacy of the state fighting the war has received some attention, the legitimacy of the military doing so is a further question, since an all-things-considered legitimate state may have an illegitimate military, and vice versa.

To be sure, some just war theorists have considered the moral legitimacy of the military, especially the issues of conscription and conscientious objection. For instance, in Obligations, Michael Walzer rejects a consent-based defence of the draft.3 Similarly, Brian Orend presents an account of what he calls 慽nternal jus in bello that is, the rules of warfare governing the conduct of the warring parties towards their own civilians and soldiers.4 However, such discussions tend to be brief and, as such, fail to provide a thorough assessment of the alternative ways of organising the military. This article aims to fill this lacuna. It does by providing a normative account of the legitimacy of the military—what I call the 慚oderate Instrumentalist Approach’—and using this approach to evaluate the three leading ways in which the military can be organised: (i) the employment of PMSCs, (ii) the use of conscripted citizen-soldiers, and (iii) the AVF.

The issue of the legitimacy of the military is of much moral significance. First, it is a major normative issue in its own right. It concerns matters of major moral import, such as the fair distribution of the burdens of fighting, the individual autonomy of those required to fight, and the importance of democratic control. Second, the legitimacy of the military will often be a significant factor in the justifiability of a particular war. To be sure, it is not a necessary criterion of the justice of a war. Whereas just war theory concerns the justice of a particular war, the legitimacy of the military is a larger, ongoing issue, concerning several wars, peacetime, and the military抯 continuing relationship with the polity. On occasion, a just war may be fought by a generally illegitimate military. For instance, the military of a state might be unusually effective in the case of just war A, but generally be illegitimate because it is ineffective at fighting (potentially) just wars B and C. Nevertheless, despite such exceptions, the ongoing legitimacy of the military is typically a significant factor in the overall justifiability of a particular war, given the importance of the concerns that I will highlight. Indeed, where the war is not clearly just or unjust, the legitimacy of the military may determine whether the war is just. For example, the justifiability of a state抯 humanitarian intervention may be moot according to the standard just war criteria, but its reliance on conscripts renders its war unjust. Third, the moral legitimacy of the military may also determine whether a particular just war criterion is met. For instance, a military that is generally inefficient—and, on my account, illegitimate—may be unlikely to meet the just war requirement of a reasonable prospect of success. Fourth, as I will discuss, the composition of the military affects the likelihood of the state fighting just or unjust wars.

The issue of the legitimacy of the military is also of much political significance. Since the 1960s and 1970s, many states have changed the composition of their military from one based on the draft to an AVF. It may seem, then, that the AVF has won the normative and political argument. However, the AVF has recently been subject to two major challenges. On the one hand, there have been widespread criticisms (particularly in the US) of the AVF for being unfair and too distant from society and, subsequently, numerous calls for the reintroduction of the draft to tackle these problems.5 On the other hand, several states have been moving away from relying purely on the AVF to perform military functions, hiring instead the services of PMSCs such as Aegis, ArmorGroup (now part of the G4S group), Erinys, KBR, and Xe (formerly Blackwater). Although states still largely rely on their regular militaries for clearly combat roles, PMSCs perform a range of tasks traditionally performed by the regular military. These include the training of the police and the military, logistical support, interrogation and intelligence gathering, the maintenance of specialist weapons and technologies, and the armed guarding of infrastructure, convoys, and certain individuals. In the First Gulf War, there was a ratio of roughly one contractor to every 100 soldier; by 2008 in the Second Gulf War, that ratio had risen to roughly one to one.6 As of March 2011, there were about 174,000 Department of Defense (DoD) contractors in the CENTCOM area of operations (i.e., in the Middle East), including about 90,000 DoD contractors in Afghanistan and 64,000 DoD contractors in Iraq.7 This privatisation of military force raises the question of whether the large-scale employment of PMSCs is a morally acceptable way of organising the military.

In what follows, I first outline the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach. I then argue that the use of PMSCs is highly problematic according to this approach. Next, I consider—and reject—the case for conscription presented by certain civic republicans. The final section assesses the AVF. I argue that despite some notable failings, this is the most legitimate way of organising the military and, in doing so, repudiate the claim that the AVF is a mercenary army.

The Moderate Instrumentalist Approach
In this section, I will present the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach to the legitimacy of the military, which asserts that three factors largely determine the justifiability of a particular arrangement.8 But before doing so, it is necessary to make two clarifications. The first concerns how this approach relates to, and differs from, the dominant theories of civil-military relations. These have been the lenses through which the issues surrounding the moral legitimacy of the military have been largely viewed.

Peter Feaver claims that the central problem animating all analyses of civil-military relations is what he calls the 慶ivil-military problematique the military needs to be able to protect the state from internal and external threats, but it also needs not to prey on the society that it is intended to protect.9 In short, there needs to be protection by the military, but also protection from it.10 Most theories of civil-military relations are fundamentally concerned with trying to resolve, or at least to ameliorate, the civil-military problematique to ensure that the military is, on the one hand, sufficiently strong to be able to ward off internal and external threats and, on the other hand, subject to civilian control and, in particular, democratic civilian control.

Three approaches to civil-military relations are particularly influential. The first, sometimes called the 憄olitical science approach’11, is associated with the work of Samuel Huntingdon.12 It favours a professional army and 憃bjective controlof the military by, for instance, a clear division of labour between the civilian and military spheres.13 Second, the 憇ociological approachis associated with the work of Morris Janowitz14 and is concerned with affecting the disposition of the military so that it will be subordinate. This approach is the most closely associated with civic republicanism and the citizen-soldier model discussed below; it holds that citizen-soldiers are more likely to have the appropriate disposition. The third approach is Peter Feaver抯 慉gency Theory which uses principal-agent theory to explain when the military is likely to comply with civilian demands and how military 憇hirkingcan be minimised.15

The problem with most theories of civil-military relations, however, is that they are insufficiently developed normatively. To be sure, normative/prescriptive claims are made by several civil-military relations theorists (e.g., Huntingdon claims that the military should be professional), but these are generally based on the conclusions that follow from their theoretical or empirical analysis, rather than from a more fundamental consideration of the moral legitimacy of the military. On the contrary, civil-military relations theory tends to assume the moral significance of the two normative concerns highlighted by the civil-military problematique. Perhaps less problematically, the first is democratic control of the military (I will defend the moral significance of this value below). The second, and more problematically, is the defence of the state from external aggressors. Here a form of crude Realist thinking is often apparent, with it assumed that national self-defence and the promotion of the national interest is appropriate. What simply matters, on this view, is the effective defence of the state from potential threats, regardless of the justifiability of the war fought. To be fair, some civil-military relations theorists are concerned with the normative impacts domestically of militaries fighting unjust wars. Yet, little attention is given to the effects of militaries on those beyond the borders of the state. By contrast, Moderate Instrumentalist Approach focuses on explicitly normative issue—the moral legitimacy of the military. Unless one holds a (highly unpalatable) strong communitarian or Realist position, considering this issue requires that attention be paid as well to the external impacts of militaries and, more specifically, the effects on the human rights of those beyond the state抯 borders.

The second clarification concerns what I mean by the concept of 憀egitimacy Following Allen Buchanan, I take legitimacy to be an issue of agent justification in that it concerns the moral justifiability of an agent抯 power.16 To know whether a particular agent is legitimate, we need to know the qualities that would mean it could justifiably wield power. In addition, those subject to the agent抯 jurisdiction need to have a content-independent reason to comply with it.17 It is a further question whether those subject to the agent抯 jurisdiction have a content-independent obligation to obey its commands. In the case of the military, it is conceivable that a military might generally be justified and that its soldiers possess content-independent reasons to obey it, but that these are not sufficient to establish an obligation to obey. This may require some further moral quality, such as receiving the soldiersfree consent.

I also take the legitimacy of the military to be largely scalar and cumulative. That is, it is a matter of degree and depends on the combined contribution of the various qualities that it possesses. The better a particular military does according to the requirements of the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach, the more legitimate it will be. A military does not need to possess all the morally relevant qualities in order to possess an adequate degree of legitimacy, that is, enough for its rule to be morally acceptable all things considered (the exception to this is effectiveness, which is a necessary condition). Nevertheless, to be fully legitimate, a military needs to meet all the requirements of the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach in full. In addition, although a particular arrangement of the military may do poorly on one factor compared to the alternatives, it may do better on the other factors—or on the more morally important factors—and therefore be preferable overall. The ensuing analysis will not compare the use of PMSCs, conscription, and the AVF according to each of the relevant normative factors; rather, it will compare the overall assessment of the legitimacy of the arrangements.

The most important quality on the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach is the effectiveness of the military. More specifically, it is the military抯 effectiveness at performing two roles: (i) fighting just wars and (ii) deterring unjust internal and external threats. These two roles are central rationales for the existence of the military. Fighting just wars is a central rationale because it is morally important to defend the basic human rights of those within the polity (in the case of defensive wars) and the basic human rights of those beyond its borders (in the case of humanitarian interventions, peace operations, and wars of collective self-defence). Maintaining a threat of deterrence against unjust threats is a central rationale of the military because otherwise those posing the threat may be able to wield significant influence over the polity (and, in the case of deterring threats to other agents, those in other polities).

The effective performance of these two roles is vital because this is central to the protection of individualsenjoyment of basic rights. Just wars typically respond to the impending or actual harm of a large number of individuals. Similarly, unjust threats of aggression, which are typically highly coercive, often harm several individualsbasic rights by, for instance, reducing the ability of individuals to lead the lives that they choose. Thus, military effectiveness at performing these two roles is important because of the high moral stakes involved. The stakes are high because, qualitatively, it is typically individualsbasic rights that are in danger, such as the right not to be subject to physical harm. The stakes are also high because, quantitatively, these rights are usually under threat on a large scale: several individualsbasic rights are in danger. There is, then, typically a threat of a massively undesirable state of affairs—the harming of several individualsbasic rights—and it is therefore crucial that the military effectively stop this state of affairs from materialising.

Given the stakes involved, effectiveness is the primary factor in the legitimacy of the military. What seems to matter above all else is that the military be effective at protecting several individualsenjoyment of basic rights, given the moral import of this protection. It also follows that effectiveness is a necessary condition, since a military institution that fails to fight just wars or to deter unjust aggressors effectively would not justify its existence. It would risk the unjust infliction of harm on innocent individuals (by launching unjust wars) and the abuse of military power (e.g., in domestic politics) without any sizable countervailing benefits. For example, although being of a considerable size, a military of a state may not have the capability to wage just wars effectively because it possesses no air- or sea-lift capacity (so cannot undertake or contribute significantly to overseas peace operations). It also has no real internal or external threats. Its existence, however, means that, first, it poses a risk to the state抯 political institutions by influencing domestic politics and, second, it may involve its state in an unjust war. Thus, the legitimacy of the military depends on the effective performance of one or both of the rationales for its existence.

Note that by 慹ffectivenessI do not simply the military抯 success at achieving the aims of a particular mission or operation, although this may often be important. Nor is effectiveness simply a matter of the success at protecting the state. Rather, a military is effective if it is successful at protecting the enjoyment of basic human rights, which is the good to be promoted on the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach. Effectiveness should also be taken to be forward-looking. That is, what matters is whether the military is likely to be effective in the future at promoting individualsenjoyment of basic rights, rather than any previous successes or failures that it has had (although these may be relevant when assessing whether it is likely to be effective in the future). This should be compared to the alternative ways of organising the military and its disbandment.

Let me highlight three further aspects about this account of effectiveness. First, by fighting effectively just wars, I mean achieving the aims of the just cause successfully largely within the partially deontological strictures of just war theory (e.g., by at the same time maintaining fidelity to the principles of the jus in bello), rather than a simple maximisation of the enjoyment of basic rights. Second, since effectiveness is judged relatively according to the other potential options, it follows that a military may be effective even though it may appear to have several shortfalls. For instance, the military of a state with few finances may not be able to afford the technologies necessary for force projection abroad, and so be unable to participate significantly in just wars beyond its borders, but still be better than any alternative arrangement (including its disbandment). Third, since effectiveness is measured by its likely consequences for individualsenjoyment of basic rights in general, a military could effectively fight just wars and deter unjust aggressors but still be illegitimate because it undermines individualsenjoyment of basic rights in other ways. Most notably, in addition to any just ones, it might fight in unjust wars (e.g., where its soldiers violate the rules of jus in bello).18 Alternatively, a military may continually interfere with political matters and demand ever-growing financial resources, thereby bankrupting the state and meaning that it is no longer able to look after its citizensbasic rights (e.g., the state can no longer afford welfare services).

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