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The Ethics of Arming Rebels

Abstract

Despite the popularity of arming rebels as a foreign policy option, there is very little, if any, detailed engagement with the ethical issues surrounding the practice. There is a growing literature on the ethical issues surrounding civil wars and, more specifically, the conditions for engaging in just rebellion; but the focus of this literature is largely on the question of the justifiability of the rebels themselves in engaging in civil war and their conduct when doing so, rather than the permissibility of the arming of rebels by other agents. It is precisely this issue that I want to address here. Overall, I argue that the process should be generally eschewed. More specifically, this article seeks to establish that arming rebels is generally impermissible and only exceptionally morally permissible (even, as I will argue, when rebels are engaged in unjust wars). The former, far more restrictive claim will be established in the first part of the article. The latter, more permissive claim will be established in the second part of the article.

Despite the popularity of arming rebels as a foreign policy option, there is very little, if any, detailed engagement with the ethical issues surrounding the practice. There is a growing literature on the ethical issues surrounding civil wars and, more specifically, the conditions for engaging in just rebellion; but the focus of this literature is largely on the question of the justifiability of the rebels themselves in engaging in civil war and their conduct when doing so, rather than the permissibility of the arming of rebels by other agents. It is precisely this issue that I want to address here. Overall, I argue that the process should be generally eschewed. More specifically, this article seeks to establish that arming rebels is generally impermissible and only exceptionally morally permissible (even, as I will argue, when rebels are engaged in unjust wars). The former, far more restrictive claim will be established in the first part of the article. The latter, more permissive claim will be established in the second part of the article.

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Olivier Corten and Vaios Koutroulis , “The Illegality of Military Support to Rebels in the Libyan War: Aspects of Jus Contra Bellum and Jus in Bello,” Journal of Conflict & Security Law 18, no. 1 (2013), pp. 5993, at p. 90

Idean Salehyan , “The Delegation of War to Rebel Organizations,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 54, no. 3 (2010), pp. 493515, at p. 503

James Christensen , “Weapons, Security, and Oppression: A Normative Study of International Arms Transfers,” Journal of Political Philosophy 23, no. 1 (2015), pp. 2339

Allen Buchanan , “The Ethics of Revolution and its Implications for the Ethics of Intervention,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 41, no. 4 (2013), pp. 291323

Seth Lazar , “The Responsibility Dilemma for Killing in War: A Review Essay,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 38, no. 2 (2010), pp. 180213

John Sislin and Frederic Pearson , “Arms and Escalation in Ethnic Conflicts: The Case of Sri Lanka,” International Studies Perspectives 7, no. 2 (2006), pp. 137–58

Matthew Moore , “Selling to Both Sides: The Effects of Major Conventional Weapons Transfers on Civil War Severity and Duration,” International Interactions 38, no. 3 (2012), pp. 325–47

Thomas Hurka , “Proportionality in the Morality of War,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 33, no. 1 (2005), pp. 3466, at pp. 47–50

Thomas Jackson , “From Under Their Noses: Rebel Groups’ Arms Acquisition and the Importance of Leakages from States Stockpiles,” International Studies Perspectives 11, no. 2 (2010), pp. 131–47

Eric G. Berman , “Arming the Revolutionary United Front,” African Security Review 10, no. 1 (2001), pp. 614, at p. 9

Ethical Business Around the World: Hawks or Doves? The Ethics of U.K. Arms Exports,” Business Ethics 7, no. 4 (1998), pp. 240–44

Jeff McMahan , “The Ethics of Killing in War,” Ethics 114, no. 4 (2004), pp. 693733

David E. Cunningham , Kristian Skrede Gleditsch , and Idean Salehyan , “It Takes Two: A Dyadic Analysis of Civil War Duration and Outcome,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 53, no. 4 (2009), pp. 570–97

Anna Leander and Rens van Munster , “Private Security Contractors in the Debate about Darfur: Reflecting and Reinforcing Neo-Liberal Governmentality,” International Relations 21, no. 2 (2007), pp. 201216

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Ethics & International Affairs
  • ISSN: 0892-6794
  • EISSN: 1747-7093
  • URL: /core/journals/ethics-and-international-affairs
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