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CfH Lectures


Anya Topolski’s lecture is preceded by a lecture by Prof. Vron Ware.

Another frame often overlooked with regard to war is that internal to the military. What occurs within this space defined by secrecy, ‘top-secret’ stamps, security and soldiers? It is necessary to ask what education and training prepares these individuals for the fog of war? Why has this training failed to prevent events such as Srebrenica and Abu Gharib? What changes have to be made from within to enable the recognition of the precarity of life? I argue that the leading norm – the just war tradition – is out of touch with the reality of conflicts in the 21st century. Anya Topolski develops this with three examples of the insufficiency of the norms of just war theory: operations other than war (OOTW), Network Enabled Operations (NEO), and terrorism. These cases make clear that we can no longer rely on traditional standards and norms. Such normative approaches to military ethics harm rather than help us. We must therefore learn to think without banisters. It is precisely this need to think without standards that I argue is critical lacking in the military. Responsibility entails a refusal to seek easy answers which are often to be found in normative doctrines such as that of the just war tradition. By holding tightly to outdated morality and codes, this tradition is impairing true thinking that is fundamentally necessary in the conflicts of the 21st century.

This lecture was given within the framework of the 2010 School of Critical Theory organized by the Centre for the Humanities in Utrecht. The programme was titled ‘Cosmopolitanism, Peace and Conflict’, and offered trans-national and interdisciplinary approaches drawn from the humanities, social sciences, law, philosophy and international relations. Its focus on the development of crossnational European perspectives in these areas, allows for the innovative use of key notions of cosmopolitanism and diversity as bridge-makers across different national, cultural and disciplinary traditions. The school consisted of three clusters, which focused on Populism and anti-cosmopolitanism in Europe today, Frames of War, and Legal Theory and Cosmopolitics.