The concept of security is central to the study of international relations (IR), yet it remains heavily contested, both in theory and in practice. In part, this is because the concept contains intractable tensions and contradictions. Nevertheless, or perhaps as a result of this, security—if understood as a state of being that is a function of war and peace—has been the subject of ethical reflection for millennia. Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, and Islamic traditions, among others, all have their own conceptions of how war and violence ought to be addressed. One of the more prominent ideas drawn from these debates is the concept of the just war, which emerged from the Christian tradition. It became an influential source of critical reflection upon both legal and practical dilemmas in international security, informing a wide range of debates around the world, and it has persisted at the heart of the field of Security Studies that emerged post-World War II. However, in the last couple of decades of the 20th century, changing notions of legitimate authority and broadened conceptions of conditions that cause harm and insecurity led to challenges to state-centrism and war-centrism in Security Studies. Issues such as global health security, counterterrorism, and humanitarian intervention have demonstrated the inherent tensions within security practices and demand novel ethical engagement. Approaching the issue of security from the perspective of international political theory (IPT) allows us to probe the ethical dimensions of security and ask how justice, authority, and security are linked and with what consequences.
Andreas Papamichail and Anthony F. Lang Jr.
Influenced by similar historical forces and intellectual trends, the fields of anthropology and international relations have begun collaborating in areas such as migration, human security, and non-state activism. One area of potential interest to international relations scholars is archaeologists’ study of the emergence, development, and decline of states. Another area is cultural anthropologists’ study of war, peace, and violence. Both international relations scholars and cultural anthropologists have begun studying non-state actors and globalization, as well as transdisciplinary topics such as gender, human rights, and nationalism. Moreover, international relations research on ethnic conflicts is growing, with many scholars drawing from anthropological works on the link between internal political processes and ethnic violence. Another area in which some international relations scholars and anthropologists have collaborated is human security; increasing numbers of anthropologists are studying cultures undergoing armed conflict. One controversial arena was applied anthropology’s recent involvement in U.S. military efforts in the Middle East. Most anthropologists agree that the use of anthropology for national defense purposes violates anthropology’s code of research ethics. Overall, the field of international relations has shown increasing interest in the question of “culture” and in the qualitative research methods that characterize anthropological research.
The just war tradition is the most dominant framework for analyzing the morality of war. Just war theory is being challenged by proponents of two philosophical views: realism, which considers moral questions about war to be irrelevant, and pacifism, which rejects the idea that war can ever be moral. Realism and pacifism offer a useful starting point for thinking about the ethics of war and peace. Feminists have been engaged with the just war tradition, mainly by exposing the gendered biases of just war attempts to restrain and regulate war and studying the role that war and its regulation plays in defining masculinity. In particular, feminists claim that the two rules of just war, jus ad bellum and jus in bello, discriminate against women. In regard to contemporary warfare, such as post-Cold War humanitarian interventions and the War on Terror, feminists have questioned the appropriateness of just war concepts to deal with the specific ethical challenges that these conflicts produce. Instead of abstract moral reasoning, which they critique as being linked to the masculine ideals of autonomy and rationality, many feminist argue for certain varieties of an ethics of care. Further research is needed to elaborate the basis of an ethical response to violence that builds on philosophical work on feminist ethics. Key areas for future investigation include asking hard questions about whom we may kill, and how certain people become killable in war while others remain protected.