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Joseph H. Felter on Courageous Restraint

Ethics Matter

Stephanie Sy interviewed Joseph H. Felter for the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs' Global Ethics Forum TV program. Listen to the audio recording of the full interview on the Carnegie Council's website, or watch a video clip.

STEPHANIE SY: Welcome to Ethics Matter. I am Stephanie Sy. I am so pleased to be joined here at the Carnegie Council studios today by Dr. Joseph Felter, a senior research scholar at the Center of International Security and Cooperation. He is also a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is here to talk about why civilian casualties (CIVCAS) should be factored into military plans. We are not just talking about the moral and legal reasons for that, but the strategic reasons.

Dr. Felter, thank you so much. It is nice to meet you.

JOSEPH FELTER: It's nice to be here, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE SY: You write about it in a new report for Dædalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, "Limiting Civilian Casualties as Part of a Winning Strategy: The Case of Courageous Restraint." What do you want to highlight about this report?

JOSEPH FELTER: I think the big takeaway that I hope comes through in this report that my co-author, Jake Shapiro at Princeton, and I put together is that limiting civilian casualties is always morally and ethically the right thing to do. It is a moral and ethical imperative to limit civilian casualties to follow the rules of war. But in some situations, in some types of conflicts—asymmetric conflicts, counterinsurgencies, the types of conflicts we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example—it is also part of winning.

In a conflict where you are competing for support of the population, where information from the population is key to your tactical and operational successes, if you have a civilian casualty incident, for example, you start to lose support of the population and you start to lose that information flow, and hence you get challenged on the ground. You can't win without support of the population. It is hard to get the support of the population if you are harming the population.

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