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A Matter of Balance: A French Perspective on Limited Strikes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 July 2020

Abstract

What are the philosophical arguments justifying limited strikes? This essay, as part of the roundtable “The Ethics of Limited Strikes,” adopts a French perspective both because France is, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, one of the states that launched such limited strikes in recent years, and because it developed a limited warfare ethos. There is something specific about such an ethos that makes it particularly receptive to the jus ad vim framework and, therefore, to the issue of limited strikes. This essay also builds on the case of the use (or threat) of limited force in Syria as a response to the country's use of chemical weapons between 2013 and 2018. Presented as a way to “punish” the Syrian regime as much as to “deter” it from using chemical weapons again, these limited strikes are a good illustration of the traditional retributive/preventive dichotomy of penal philosophy. I argue that the moral justification of those strikes should be guided by a consequentialist ethic, preventive rather than retributive. From a consequentialist perspective, limited strikes are justified when they “work”—that is, when they have a deterrent/compellent effect. For that to happen, they need to be credible and imply the potential of an escalation; the challenge being to keep the escalation under control. Carrying the risk of inefficacy at one end of the spectrum and of escalation at the other, limited strikes are indeed a matter of balance.

Type
Roundtable: The Ethics of Limited Strikes
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

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References

NOTES

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25 Ibid., p. 23.

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27 Even if Putin's motivations are complex, it is safe to assume that the Syrian and Ukraine crisis are somehow connected and that, as Anne-Marie Slaughter argued in 2014, “The solution to the crisis in Ukraine lies in part in Syria.” Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Stopping Russia Starts in Syria,” Project Syndicate, April 23, 2014, www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/anne-marie-slaughter-on-how-us-intervention-in-the-syrian-civil-war-would-alter-vladimir-putin-s-calculus-in-ukraine?barrier=accesspaylog.

28 François Hollande, quoted in “‘La France est prête à punir ceux qui ont pris la décision de gazer des innocents en Syrie,” Le Monde, August 27, 2013, www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2013/08/27/la-france-est-prete-a-punir-ceux-qui-ont-pris-la-decision-de-gazer-des-innocents_3467215_823448.html (translated from original French by author).

29 Nichols, Thomas M., “Sovereignty and Preventive War in the Twenty-First Century: A Retrospective on Eve of Destruction: The Coming Age of Preventive War,” in Fisk, Kerstin and Ramos, Jennifer M., eds., Preventive Force: Drones, Targeted Killing, and the Transformation of Contemporary Warfare (New York: New York University Press, 2016), p. 103Google Scholar.

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33 Emmanuel Macron, quoted in “Macron Says Has ‘Proof’ of Syrian Chemical Attack, Vows Response,” France 24, April 12, 2018, www.france24.com/en/20180412-macron-says-has-proof-syrian-chemical-attack-vows-response.

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38 Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump, quoted in “France, US ‘Will Not Tolerate Impunity’ on Syria Chemical Weapons,” France 24, March 2, 2018, www.france24.com/en/20180302-france-us-will-not-tolerate-impunity-syria-chemical-weapons.

39 Le Drian, “Declaration to the Press.”

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44 Lewis and Tertrais, Beyond the Red Line.

45 “Emmanuel Macron in His Own Words,” interview by the Economist, November 7, 2019.

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50 Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking in “Selon Le Drian, ‘une bonne partie de l'arsenal chimique’ d'Assad a été détruite,” April 14, 2018, BFM TV video, 0:30, www.bfmtv.com/politique/selon-le-drian-les-objectifs-des-frappes-en-syrie-ont-ete-atteints-1418890.html (translated from original French by author).

51 Lupton, “The Reputational Costs,” pp. 217–228.

52 Duclos, Michel, La longue nuit syrienne: Dix années de diplomatie impuissante (Paris: Editions de l'Observatoire, 2019), p. 113Google Scholar.

53 Brunstetter, Daniel R., “Wading Knee-Deep into the Rubicon: Escalation and the Morality of Limited Strikes,” Ethics & International Affairs 34, no. 2 (July 2020), pp. 161173CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

54 Ibid.

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