Liberal Way of War Programme Proposal

Liberal Way of War Proposal

The simplest security thinking is territorial: it appeals to what might be called a Hadrian's Wall image. The privileged space within the Wall is occupied by a community, an ordered group with a shared public life that rests upon acceptance of shared values. Within the Wall, those values set limits to the group's behaviour; at and beyond it, such constraints are void, or else, to some extent, inapplicable.

This image has always had critics. There have always, for example, been thinkers who insist that a community's 'security' is more than simply a protective wrapper; it can and must express the basic values by which the group within is constituted. The Wall is not a neutral instrument, but an expression of community; it should reflect and advertise the nature of what it defends. But this natural aspiration to moralise security arrangements invariably meets with a counterargument: the Wall itself has needs - it must be manned and kept in good repair - and these practical requirements may demand behaviour, even within the area it protects, that is flatly inconsistent with the norms on which a given community is founded. Under such circumstances, there is an obvious case for giving the Wall's needs priority, if only because the existence of the community depends on the existence of the Wall; as the call for this Programme has put it, 'security' can be seen as 'a core value on which the achievement of other human objectives depends'.

Only a culture whose sole aim was war could altogether escape this kind of tension, but liberals feel it particularly acutely. In liberal societies – societies that understand their social and political arrangements as limited by, and instrumental to, the 'liberty' of individuals – 'security' and 'liberty' are virtually certain to come into collision. Warfare on any scale is almost certain to involve a heightened degree of coercion as well as fairly extensive interference with rights to privacy and property. The difficulties for liberals are still greater when it is reasonable to suspect that there are dangerous enemies within - in other words, when there are grounds for treating the free members of the community as if they were external enemies.

These are not, however, novel difficulties, and there are well-known intellectual moves that go some way towards resolving them, conveniently summarised in the two ancient tags salus populi suprema lex esto (let the safety of the people be the highest law) and inter arma silent leges (amid arms the laws are silent). But neither of these slogans is any real threat to what we have called the Hadrian's Wall image. The former presupposes the moral significance of membership of a particular 'people'. The latter claims that there are times and places in which those values are inapplicable; even if the places are within a given community's borders, it has deemed them, in effect, to be external.

The principal objective of our proposed research is to acquire a better understanding of an essentially conceptual shift that undermines the Hadrian's Wall model. Though liberals of course aspire to treat all human beings equally, they have in general recognised a fairly firm distinction between their home societies and places (as it were, beyond the Wall) where liberal values have yet to be respected; a universalising value system has nonetheless accepted that there are areas beyond its practical control. But universalising liberalism is being replaced by a variant that is universalist, that is, that presupposes the existence of an established worldwide rights-based order. On this view, the liberal state's duty in Rwanda and Iraq is simply to uphold the same arrangements that prevail in North America and Western Europe. Moreover, in its efforts to uphold them, it must itself be held to the high standards that it maintains that it is fighting for.

Belief in the existence of this order is now a cardinal strategic fact, so much so that a country that ignores it pays a significant strategic price. The Bush administration's old-fashioned attitude that prisoners can be physically transported to places where civilian law is quite irrelevant is arguably a symptom of its failure to react to this political reality. But no one fully understands the forces that are encouraging new attitudes, and no one knows, in consequence, how far the process is reversible.

Security Studies narrowly conceived is powerless to address these larger questions. We therefore propose an interdisciplinary approach that will encourage scholars from four different Reading Schools (Modern Languages, History, Law, and Politics) to work upon three overlapping sub-themes. First, there will be studies by military Strategists about the past, present, and future of legal constraints on the behaviour of generals. Secondly, there will be research by Political Scientists and Theorists about the concept of emergency powers and the growth of universal (as opposed to territorial) jurisdiction. Thirdly, there will be a series of case studies of twentieth-century episodes that illustrate the trends we are researching. The result will be a three-way conversation, facilitated by seminars and workshops, in which academics from quite different backgrounds are enabled and encouraged to test or illustrate each other's findings. The bulk of the funds requested will be spent on nine doctoral studentships (three for each of the subprogrammes) that will give critical mass to a research community with a distinctive intellectual focus.

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