The Conduct of WarEdit

The two primary principals regarding war and force in society today are jus ad bellum and jus in bello.

Jus ad bellumEdit

This relates to the right to go to war, to use force. It sets out certain criteria which must be met before force can be applied. The criteria are that war must be waged[1]:

  • by a legitimate authority
  • for a just cause (self-defense, etc.)
  • with the intent of restoring peace
  • with proportionality in mind
  • only as a last resort
  • with a reasonable chance of success

Jus in belloEdit

This dictates the conduct of war itself. The change and development of new weapons for the military deals directly with jus in bello. The ethics and use of these weapons SHOULD meet these four criteria[2]:

  • Discrimination
  • Proportionality
  • International Conventions
  • Effect of Unjust conduct


It is NEVER right to kill non-combatants. Those not involved in the fight are innocent and have not done any wrongs, therefore they have the right to be safe and secure same as everyone else. The criteria of discrimination is that in war, a distinction is shown recognized between combatants and non-combatants. Then, all harm and destruction is applied towards the combatants, and no harm is done to non-combatants.


The concept of proportionality is to weight the destruction between what is desired and what will actually happen. In discrimination it is stated that non-combatants should not be targeted; however, it is clear that non-combatants have perished in wars before. This is where proportionality enters the decision. In order to be in just conduct, the attacking force needs to ask itself these questions:

  • Does the commander desire the death of non-combatants?
  • Is collateral damage the means to the end?
  • Does the importance of the target outweigh the cost?
  • Is there any other way of achieving the same effect?
  • Have the soldiers taken all reasonable steps to minimise the threat of collateral damage?

International ConventionsEdit

Many international conventions have taken place over the years which try to impose guidelines for the conduct of war. Two of the most important were in Hague and Geneva. The Hague Convention did many things for the conduct of war; however those most important to the aspect of attack were actually created in Geneva as the Geneva Protocol to the Hague Convention (1925). These included the ban of gas, treachery, and weapons which cause unnecessary suffering.[3]

The Geneva Conventions set standards for international humanitarian concerns. They were built largely upon the concepts set by the Hague Conventions. The most applicable part of the Geneva Conventions is the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) which details the treatment of civilians. Geneva IV outlaws any harm being done to civilians: death, torture, punishment for offences not committed, etc.[4]

Effect of Unjust ConductEdit

Breaches of conduct during war can make the war that was originally just, unjust and created problems in the international community. This directly pertains to attacking and technology used for attack. Notable examples are Vietnam, Kosovo, and Iraq. In Iraq this can be seen on both sides of the war. Hussein had and used banned weapons (gas and other biological weapons) thus making his action unjust and providing the ability for the international community to take action. At the same time, actions by the attacking coalition have been unjust (e.g. treatment of prisoners of war) and have caused outrage in the international community.

The following of jus in bello is essential to both make a war just, and to treat other humans with the respect which they deserve.


How have the weapons changed?Edit

In order for attack to be successful there needs to be some sort of weapons that will give the military an advantage over their enemy. Over the eras, the weapons used in battles have undergone many changes with inventions such as gunpowder which enabled use for many different weapons. The weapons have changed from the ancient and medieval times when spears, swords, shields, and bow & arrows were used. With the invention of gunpowder, the use of firearms became possible. Starting in the Revolutionary War with muskets and gradually undergoing changes to rifles to the weapons that are used by the military today. The weapons have become more efficient and accurate as time has passed and it has resulted in a higher death rate in wars. The big difference can be seen from the Civil War, as rifles were introduced instead of muskets, enabling soldiers to shoot from longer distances which resulted in more casualties. While the improvement of weapons leads them to become more efficient, it also leads to more casualties in the war which can be seen as an ethical issue. One can question the morality and ethical issues these newly casualties in war increase.

The introduction of armor-piercing rounds presents another ethical issue; as some of these rounds can penetrate vehicles, one can only imagine the devastation if they are shot at a person. However, others argue that the introduction of these rounds keeps the military safe from the enemy; we can disable certain enemy vehicles that would be used in a counter attack. The military currently uses the M16 assault rifle, but also issues the M4 carbine and the M249 light machine gun. They are also currently in search of a possible replacement for the M16.

Development of the Kinetic Energy RoundsEdit


Our current military uses weapons such as the M16 assault rifle, the M4 carbine, and the M249 light machine gun; all use magazine fed bullets. The M16 has been the military’s choice as the main rifle for almost 40 years and many feel that it is time for a replacement to be put in place of it. A few years ago, Heckler & Koch began to develop a rifle to replace the M16 known as the XM-8 and it is supposed to be superior to the M16 in many ways. Not only does the weapon fire at a faster rate and is lighter than the M16; but it is also based on the technology used for creating kinetic energy rounds which enable the bullets fired to be quicker and deadlier. It also has an attachment to add a grenade launcher and can fire shotgun shells.[5] However, the XM-8 never worked out like it was supposed to and it was eventually cancelled by the United States on October 31, 2005.[6]

Although the project did not work out, it brought light to the new kinetic energy rounds, which are in development for many new weapons. For now, most are being used in armor or tank piercing rounds. These rounds are known as kinetic energy penetrating rounds. They use a fin on the back of the round which opens upon impact and helps rip through the armor of a tank or other armored vehicles.[7] With the ability of the weapons to penetrate armor, the increased destruction that will be caused by these weapons is certain to increase and raise issues about if it is right to use such force. Additionally, this will lead to the increase in development of even more controversial weapons such as coil guns and rail guns.

Other ‘New’ Attack WeaponsEdit

Many new weapons are developed to meet the criteria of jus in bello (e.g. smart bombs) but many work in direct opposition (nuclear devices[8], biological[9] and chemical weapons[10], and electro magnetic pulses). , , These devices do not recognize the distinction between non-combatants and combatants as the damage is distributed equally. However, some say that these weapons could be applied on the battlefield (unlike the use of atomic bombs on the Japanese population) as they would only then be targeted towards combatants. Others argue that these devices cannot be contained and while they are directed towards combatants, they could spread to areas not intended and cause harm.

Discussion PointsEdit

  • Do the various weapons today satisfy jus in bello?
  • Do the future weapons and new ones being developed satisfy jus in bello?
  • Should all weapons not satisfying jus in bello be destroyed or removed from service?
  • Does the development of weapons not meeting jus in bello provide for jus ad bellum?
  • Is there a way to alter weapons so that they can satisfy jus in bello?
  • With ‘new’ weapons, can the proportionality allowed in jus in bello ever outweigh discrimination?


  1. Bellamy, Alex J. “Chapter X: The Ethics and Laws of War.” in Devetak, Burke, and George. International Relations. Cambridge University Press. forthcoming
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