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Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: “The Justice of Punitive Wars” written by Benjamin Koons

This essay received an Honourable Mention in the graduate category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford, Oriel College student Benjamin Koons

  1. Introduction

Contemporary just war theory has largely abandoned punishment as one of the just causes for war, but I intend to show that if one accepts the justice of defensive wars then punitive wars are plausibly justified. I defend this thesis:

Punishment as Just Cause (PJC): It is a just cause for international treaty organization X to initiate a war with member-state Y so as to punish Y for an injustice against state Z.

I have limited my thesis so that only international treaty organizations (e.g. the United Nations) can punish injustices by member-states. This thesis says nothing about the form of punishment and when it should occur. David Luban wrongly equates PJC with a different thesis about jus in bello[1]:

War as Punishment: International treaty organization X may justly punish member-state Y with the destruction of war.

Another possibility is that the punishment is supposed to happen after the war’s conclusion by imposing punitive terms in a peace treaty:

Punitive Terms: International treaty organization X may justly impose punitive terms on member-state Y for crimes committed before and during the war.

An example of this sort of punishment is the Treaty of Versailles in which the victorious Allied Powers punished Germany through reparations payments and territorial concessions. In this essay defending PJC, I will speak solely about Punitive Terms and not War as Punishment.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.