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New Dilemmas in Ethics, Technology, and War: Project Meeting

On October 9, 2014, Dr. Fanton welcomed the Steering Committee of the New Dilemmas in Ethics, Technology, and War project to the House of the Academy. In his remarks, Dr. Fanton provides context for the work of the group—the first project begun during his tenure as President of the American Academy.

Good morning. I look forward to our conversation today on the topic of ethics, technology and war. The relation among technology, ethics, and war is complicated and multifaceted. It is both an interesting theoretical topic and, as the news every day demonstrates, a highly relevant policy issue as well. Ultimately, conversations such as ours today are essential to understanding the existing gaps and vulnerabilities in the current ethical framework that informs war policies and strategies.

My deep personal interest in this project derives from my thirty-year association with Human Rights Watch, including six years as its Chair. I am indebted to Aryeh Neier for his mentorship on so many human rights issues. My interest in this topic was deepened by my years at the MacArthur Foundation, which had a robust interest in accountability through international justice mechanisms. How appropriate that the first project begun during my time as President of the American Academy should connect so directly to topics I care deeply about. You can count on my support for and engagement in your work.

Discussions of ethics have emerged and flourished, particularly in transitional times when the advancement of knowledge, technology, and understanding poses both governance challenges and opportunities for societies. Ethics may provide a way to guide and inform this transition by redefining what is best for the public good.

Today we are indeed at one of these inflection points for our nation and for the world. Technology, including military technology, has advanced and spread at an unprecedented pace, and with consequences that are not yet fully understood. According to a report issued by the Government Accountability Office, the number of nations possessing drones has nearly doubled in the last six years, growing from forty-one in 2007 to seventy-six in 2013. Other official sources state that at least one hundred forty countries are developing cyber weapons, and the number of cyber warfare operations has dramatically increased. Just to give you the scale of this threat, the Security Operations Center of the U.S. Senate receives 13.9 million cyber-security breach attempts per day.

At the same time, the rise of transnational insurgency movements and terrorist organizations are flourishing in areas of the world. Syria, Iraq, and Libya are all reminders that together with a new type of high-tech war, other more conventional security threats have not been solved but continue to linger and worsen.

For several years, international humanitarian law, based on the “just war doctrine,” has served as a framework to guide states’ behavior in war. We have the honor and the pleasure to have with us today Professor Michael Walzer, the author of Just and Unjust Wars (1977), the most influential book on how the just war doctrine applied to the context of interstate conflict during the Cold War. Michael, I want to express my deep appreciation for your involvement in this initiative.

Yet the framework of the just war doctrine is now under severe strain by the rapid changes in warfare, military technology, and doctrines of intervention. Therefore, our overall understanding of the moral implications guiding states’ behavior in warfare and in post conflict settings today must evolve and adapt.

This complicated landscape of warfare in today’s world poses a critical question: what is the best normative framework to help guide and inform military and governmental policies?

This is a daunting question, but one that this Steering Committee is well equipped to address. The level of knowledge and expertise gathered around the room today is impressive, and I am sure it will be put to good use as we embark on a full-day of discussion on ethics, technology, and war. I also hope that this question will be a central theme that connects this project to the other new studies that are currently being developed by the Academy’s Committee on International Security Studies.

At this point, Dr. Fanton turned the program over to the Chair of the New Dilemmas in Ethics, Technology, and War project, Scott D. Sagan, the Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and Senior Fellow at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation.

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