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Just War Reconsidered:

Strategy, Ethics, and Theory

Bibliographic Content

James M. Dubik, Lt. General USA (RET)


University Press of Kentucky

Paperback/Hardback (236 pages),  Audiobook (9hr:15m)

Synopsis from Author

In Just War Reconsidered: Strategy, Ethics, and Theory, James M. Dubik draws on years of research as well as his own experiences as a soldier and teacher to fill the gaps left by other theorists. He applies moral philosophy, political philosophy, and strategic studies to historical and contemporary case studies to reveal the inaccuracies and moral bankruptcy that inform some of the literature on military ethics. Conventional just war theory adopts a binary approach, wherein political leaders have moral accountability for the decision to go to war and soldiers have accountability for fighting the war ethically. Dubik argues, however, that political and military leadership should be held accountable for the planning and execution of war in addition to the decision to initiate conflict.

Dubik bases his sober reassessment on the fundamental truth that war risks the lives of soldiers and innocents as well as the political and social health of communities. He offers new standards to evaluate the ethics of warfare in the hope of increasing the probability that the lives of soldiers will not be used in vain and the innocent not put at risk unnecessarily.

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Summary of Book from War Is My Business

The content starts off with the current discussions on Just War Theory that has a clear delineation between the strategic level of going to war, jus ad bellum, and the operational and tactical levels of its conduct, jus in bello. Where the lead up to the decision to go to war, and how to wage it, are made amongst senior political and military leaders, but once the action is taken it becomes the primary domain of the military, and at best the politicians have symbolic control. This way is understandable as the military is made up of professionals that dedicate their lives to perfecting their warfighting craft, but the author speaks up that it would be folly to believe that the politicians should simply stand back and await the results.

This perspective comes from the relationship between the nation’s political community and the military that carries out its will. One perspective comes from Samuel Huntington’s objective control theory, and the other comes from Peter Feaver’s principal-agent theory of which Dubik lays out to the reader.

In objective control theory, the relationship should be that of a political government that has an entirely autonomous and professional military sphere which adopts an apolitical approach. They focus on developing their ways and means of conducting warfare while maintaining distances from the machinations of the political world. In order to develop such a high level of professionalism, the politicians seek to avoid too much interference in how the senior military officers shape their Services. In this way, the nation gets an Armed Force that is ready and equipped for a war that serves the primary principles of the nation, as opposed to the whims of any particular political party.

In principal-agent theory, the military is treated more like contracted employees or firms, whose duty is only to execute operations at the specific direction of politicians. The idea is that ultimately the civilian government has control over how the military conducts itself, and therefore, senior military officers and the commanders of warfighting organizations simply do as they are told and only speak up when asked. Much like a contracted project’s statement of work (SoW) the military will execute to the letter, even if its leaders believe it to be the ultimate folly. They will win the battles, even if they know it won’t win wars. The politicians do; technically speaking, have a “right to be wrong,” as the author brings up time and again.

So, Dubik, having seen both of these perspectives wanting, has tried to discover a bridge that carries on through the actual waging of a war simultaneous to it conduct. As Vietnam and Iraq have shown, the senior echelons of our government need to keep focused on the conduct of the war so that as changes occur within the operational environment; and they always change, they are able to reassess whether the strategic aims, policies, and campaigns need to be adjusted accordingly. The preponderance of the book goes into how leaders can achieve this while harkening back to historical examples of why it is so.

Dubik states, “War is a political instrument that uses violence and force to achieve political purposes; by its very nature, therefore, it demands a collaborative, political-military effort.” This would be akin to saying that constructing software or vehicles is an instrument of business since ultimately the firm needs to make a profit, and therefore there must be a collaborative effort between the engineers that have to design them, and everyone else that has to get them into the hands of customers. Engineers are indeed professionals, as is the military, and there is inherently an issue when those from outside that profession try to dictate how things should be done within it, but just like military operations, an engineering project must meet the aims of the firm. Therefore, a dialogue must occur between both, not necessarily on an equal footing.

Dubik posits five war-waging principles and three friction areas; what he calls “tripartite tension,” that need to be addressed to ensure that we are carrying forward in war morally and effectively.

Five War-Waging Principles

  1. Continuous Dialogue - Even though the initial establishment of strategic aims, policies, and campaign goals are debated, rehashed, and accepted, following that they are also under constant supervision and reassessment during the conduct of the war. In case they need to be changed to support the reality of the operational and political environment.
  2. Final Decision Authority - That, ultimately, the final decision rests with senior political leaders who are responsible for all aspects of national power.
  3. Managerial Competence - That the bureaucracies that manage all aspects of State and Defense departments are effectively supporting aims, or at least, bypasses are established to increase timeliness where needed.
  4. War Legitimacy - That the reasons for going to war are just, and that lives and resources are not risked unnecessarily during the conduct of that war.
  5. Resignation - That those in senior positions, be they political or military, if they can’t in good moral conscience support a decision after considerable, personal deliberation, that they be allowed to resign.

Tripartite Tensions

  1. Achieving Coherence - Ensuring that campaigns waged, in all their aspects, are tailored towards achieving those previously established strategic aims.
  2. Generating Organizational Capacity - The understanding that as strategic aims are established then subsequently all supporting organizations will have to figure out how to exactly nest their own operations, resources, and missions to achieve the nation’s strategic aims.
  3. Maintaining Legitimacy - That you must be successful, you must follow the conventions of war, and that you must not waste resources and lives unnecessarily.

Just War Reconsidered for Business

While we could go over every point Dubik makes in order to develop a list of comparable principles that businesses could adopt, it would be best to read or listen to the words yourself. However, I would like to go over one particular topic that plays an important role in his concept of waging a Just War, and one that is of most concern to developing business plans or projects. And that is of his, “Unequal Dialogue.”

Remember when I mentioned that a dialogue must occur between both senior politicians and military leaders, but not necessarily on an equal footing? I was referring to Dubik’s “Unequal Dialogue.” It is unequal since objective civilian control of the military requires that civilian leadership has final decision authority when committing military forces to combat. It is a dialogue, since no one individual can know everything, and even geniuses make mistakes, so the subject matter experts on military operations need to have a strong voice in the conversation ongoing into a war, as well as how it is waged.

Dubik states, “The reality is that good war-waging decisions are most likely to merge from a set of political and military leaders bluntly and continuously arguing with one another in an attempt to identify strategy, policy, campaign, and organizational solutions to the complex and dynamic problems they face.”  This is in reference to an important section of Eliot Cohen’s book, Supreme Command, entitled “On Military Genius” in which organizations can’t rely on the capabilities of a few “geniuses” to be available to make every decision. They have to use the people they got with the knowledge and skills they have. Therefore, working through problems and developing courses of action amongst many subject matter experts is what is needed to generate adequate decisions and shape them. Peter Drucker would agree with this concept.

In Drucker book, Concept of the Corporation, he states, “No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings. No institution can endure if it is under one-man rule.” The premise for the discussion of “supermen” in all his writings primarily dealt with the issue of succession of the business after that superman had left; how would the company survive when it needs geniuses to run it? His solution is simply that the business would need processes that could be managed by regular people in leadership positions that generated adequate courses of action for the prosperity of the firm, under any market conditions. Our senior political and military leaders are those average human beings, though subject matter experts in their own right, that need to work together. Not to say that we don’t elect geniuses into our senior political offices or that the military doesn’t promote its supermen into its senior echelons, but only that our nation needs a process that doesn’t require that to be successful in war. The Unequal Dialogue is that process, or at least the one that Dubik would believe produces success.

There is more to glean from the Unequal Dialogue, such as the need for a secret, candid, and honest discussion of issues so that every perspective and option is on the table, and how to effectively engage in back and forth arguments needed to flesh them out into executable courses of action. There are also many other topics not covered in this review, that can be utilized by business owners, executives, and their managers in order to make their organizations more effective in moving forward and supervising operations. But we don’t want to take any more of the thunder out of the book.

Leaving it at that, James M. Dubik’s Just War Reconsidered: Strategy, Ethics, and Theory is a worthwhile read for those in senior positions within a firm, company, business, joint venture, or partnership. You are in the position to guide a major endeavor, or at least manage an important aspect of one, and in doing so can see some of the same dilemmas that our nation’s senior leaders face when going to war, and overseeing its conduct. You are ensuring aims are established and worked towards. That the departments or elements of the business are unified in their efforts towards those aims. That you aren’t wasting the resources of the organization or wasting the time of your people in fruitless endeavors.  The veneer of warfare and business endeavors may look different, but that can be superficial. Fundamentally, waging and conducting a war is in many ways the same as engaging and supervising a business endeavor. You just need to know how to look at it. Just War Reconsidered would be a fine addition to your business waging library.

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