Ethique militaire : mes questions (1) - A Few Doubts about Military Ethics (1st Part)

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Exceptionnellement, je mets ci-dessous et dans le post suivant un texte en langue anglaise lu dans un congrès d'éthique militaire hors de France. J'espère que ces questions pourront être utiles à la réflexion des militaires, ou des responsables civils de la défense.

Le Baron Louis aurait dit à Napoléon : "Sire, faites-moi de la bonne politique et je vous ferai de bonnes finances." Ne pourrait-on dire dans le même esprit : "Faites-nous une politique juste, et on vous fera une éthique militaire sortable."

 

For ten years I have been thinking about military ethics and training many French cadets. I now feel the moral obligation of scrutinizing my reason and my conscience, as an investigator and as a trainer – also as a citizen involved in security institutions and committed to carrying over a tiny but significant part of the security policies of my State.

 

In a scientific meeting, people are supposed to talk about what they have found so far and believe they know. I am asking you the permission for talking exclusively today about what I do not know and what I am puzzled at. I hardly could single out in this paper one idea I did not borrow from others, but since it is so personal and unconventional, I will quote other ones as little as possible.

 

I will start explaining two big contradictions which I cannot get rid of and which, if they really were impossible to overcome, should lead us to new research directions. Then, I will rise two questions.   

 

First contradiction

Ethical limits and limitless technology

 

First of all, our common project of building a military ethics could be inconsistent, if there was strife between ethical limits and limitless technology.

 

(a)         If military ethics means anything at all, it implies at least the possibility for our practical reason to set up rules or laws for human conduct in war. But such laws imply reining our war power and imposing limits, which rule out a number of theoretically possible decisions, which would fall beyond such limits. So, there is no military ethics without an intention and intent to impose limits upon war.

 

(b)         And yet, in our high tech and scientific era we are involved in an endless arms race, aiming at inventing and building, if possible, the absolute weapon with unlimited power. We are objectively committed to an escalation toward the extreme and the infinite and the absolute of possible violence.

 

If (a) and (b) are true, does it make sense to look for the definition of a rightly limited action, if that action consists in using systems of weapons objectively and deliberately defined and produced according to the fundamental option of acquiring and possibly using a limitless and infinite power?

 

Or is it candid and fair to reason about the subjective processes implied in the limitation of warfare, without reasoning about the objective process implying the limitlessness of that same warfare?

 

May I therefore suggest our reflection should sometimes shift towards how to stop that objective process, and to talk seriously about limiting that race towards absolute power?

 

I know that it could be answered to my instance that the very growth of war power could end in eradicating war at all, and could be the one and only way to do so. But I deem that answer far overoptimistic and most of you would agree with that statement. The roots of war are so deep in our human nature, that war will remain forever a constant possibility.

 

Just have a brief look at the transformations of the chameleon – war.

 

If we reach overwhelming superiority, we still have war; we have to cope with another war, with asymmetrical warfare, or with secret warfare. In such secret warfare, nobody knows who the aggressor is and who is defending himself. Should we think there will never be any good faith left among enemies?

 

If everything was private and if there was no Nation and no State, war would be privatized. And is not that what is happening?

 

If war could not be shown, war would and should become invisible and secret – and as a matter of fact, is not that exactly what is happening?

 

If law and right forbade war, law and right would become new arms of new wars.

 

If war was physically impossible, something else (trade, currency, information, international law and institutions, and so on) would become a substitute for weapons and war and end again in new kinds of real wars. If war could not prolong politics, politics itself would become war. So, when war is nowhere, war is everywhere.

 

If this statement is valid, then the probable dissemination of mass destruction weapons in a poorly controlled world opens up the possibility of terrible human self-destructions. Today, doomsday is no more and no less than a necessary concept of reason[1]. I think we should use that concept as a rule for our ethical meditations.

 

The question I am puzzled at is the following: for centuries we believed 1° that our security was consisting in increasing warfare power, 2° that a statesman could not even wave a minute when the question was about new armament decision-making, and 3° that talking about disarmament was only good for nuts. We discover that even if these old facts and reasons are still valid, yet this is not exactly the case anymore. Or rather, the problems have evolved and are now more subtle than they were.

 

So, the ethical problem is: what can we propose to transform our armament and our defense and security policies, to cope with these for long unforeseeable problems and to do so without falling into any kind of utopia.

 

If there was no solution at all to these problems, given our set or principles and data, what could be reasonably added to or taken away from that set, in order to make the problems resolvable?

 

May I suggest that such problems could be taken seriously by the European governments and the European Union and that such a course of reflection could lead to a totally different course of action, fairer and more efficient?

 

Second contradiction

Security and liberty

 

We take for granted that we are aiming at protecting freedom, rights, and free societies, against all sort of dangers through a just and reasonable and self-controlled use of force. And military ethics research is concerned about how to respect rights, liberties and human dignity, while implementing a security policy. 

But, as we already said, we are relentlessly increasing beyond any limit our technical power and our warfare power.

 

The constant miniaturization and dissemination of all these technologies and systems will probably at the end of the day require 1° a Big-Brother-like supervising system, 2° a terrible legal apparatus giving constantly more rights to society against suspect individuals, and 3° a system expanding legal executive power possibly beyond the limits of any reasonably possible control.

 

As a result, our situation is at best paradoxical, at worst contradictory. We are indeed talking about respecting liberty and rights while implementing a policy which could end in suppressing all public liberty; or in other words, reduce liberty to the first of all liberty, namely security – and even that, only as long as a government will remain trustable in such conditions of quasi absolute power. 

 

As a result, we are getting increasingly aware of a fatal contradiction between ends and means, which is marring our practical reasoning.

 

I am not talking here about the possible use of cruel means by intelligence and police for extracting information. I am just suggesting that if we do not change basic assumptions which underlie our policies and ethical reflections, enemies of Democracies will not have to destroy them, because we will do their job ourselves.

 

Is it therefore reasonable and ethical to talk about respecting human rights and dignity, about behaving ethically, and about the Military playing its role decently, at to do so within the framework of policies which are doomed to shatter our liberties? Or should we unconditionally trust the Executive? Should we trust Cesar to save Democracy? In order to save a society defined by the rule of law, should we kill anywhere and even fellow citizens in peacetime just because intelligence reports pin them as probable “terrorists” and without any control of the judiciary?

 

The appalling cruelty of ancient juridical procedures and punishments in old times were only the results of applying hard national and public security principles to indeed terrible situations, we have lost the memories of, such as famine. Gangsters cutting the roads and hampering food-imports could in these old times starve thousands to death. As well, in times we were deprived of analgesics, it was just or at least it looked rational and fair to inflict great pains to criminals, if innocent people had to routinely suffer so much for – say – a mere broken tooth. 

 

I would therefore like to suggest that we should shift at least part of our attention from problems about how to implement decently the public security policies of Democracies, toward the basic problem of the very morality of such security policies.

 

Are we trapped in inescapable contradictions, or should we look for hidden failures within our very principles, the assumption of which give us the impression of being so unescapably trapped?

 

May I suggest again that such problems could be taken seriously into account by the European governments and the European Union? 

 

And now, I have two questions. CLIQUER ICI POUR LIRE LA SECONDE PARTIE



[1] René GIRARD, Achever Clausewitz, 2011$$$.

 

 

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