Winter 2017

The Changing Rules of War

Scott D. Sagan

SCOTT D. SAGAN, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2008, is the Caroline S. G. Munro Professor of Political Science, the Mimi and Peter Haas University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, and Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University. His books include Moving Targets: Nuclear Weapons and National Security (1989), The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons (1993), and The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate (with Kenneth N. Waltz, 2012). He leads the Academy's project on New Dilemmas in Ethics, Technology, and War.

In his historic May 2016 speech in Hiroshima, President Barack Obama highlighted the need to strengthen the institutions that govern, however imperfectly, the initiation, conduct, and aftermath of war. The speech marked the first time a sitting American president had visited Hiroshima, a city the United States destroyed in August 1945 with a single atomic bomb, killing well over one hundred thousand men, women, and children. Obama ended his speech with a call for new institutions to address the destructive power of nuclear weapons:

The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.1

The Fall 2016 issue of Dædalus on “Ethics, Technology & War” focused on how different technological developments have influenced ethics and the conduct of war in the past and how they might change the conduct of war in the future. This Winter 2017 issue of Dædalus on “The Changing Rules of War” presents a collection of essays about the evolution of just war doctrine, the laws of armed conflict, the rules of engagement, war crimes tribunals, and other domestic and international organizational procedures that together constitute the “human institutions” that Barack Obama highlighted at Hiroshima. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has convened an interdisciplinary group of scholars and practitioners both to look back at the history of these institutions and to identify reforms that might strengthen them in the future. . . .


  • 1“Text of President Obama’s Speech in Hiroshima, Japan,” The New York Times, May 27, 2016, -hiroshima-japan.html?_r=0.
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