Troops in Afghanistan and Fighting Foreign Wars

Oct 23, 2009

When war is a foreign insurgency, balancing human risks and possibility of success is a fundamental ethical dilemma for leaders. What do you think should happen in Afghanistan?

More troops in Afghanistan means asking those who serve to risk death. It means "collateral damage," civilians killed, and it may mean success.

When the war is a foreign insurgency, balancing human risks and possibility of success is a fundamental ethical dilemma for leaders.

Foreign wars can be won: Britain in Malaya, perhaps America in Iraq. Often they are lost: France in Algeria, America in Vietnam, Russia in Afghanistan.

In Science of War, O'Hanlon argues regarding success that, "There is a science of war. That's important..., not because it answers questions definitively, but because it at least constrains and grounds the debate in reality." For instance, you can calculate the troops needed to clear, rebuild, and hold a district.

O'Hanlon also notes that Sun Tzu and Clausewitz were "...mostly right about the nature of war, that it is mostly about human endeavor and enterprise and effort and courage and tactics and performance under stress...," that it is an art.

So, troop levels become artistic decisions constrained by science, which leads O'Hanlon to agree with General McChrystal that more troops are needed in Afghanistan. Do you agree?

However, this art and science may beg the question: In 2001, Afghanistan was a response to the threat of terrorism. Does threat still justify this war?

Some wars are necessary; some conflicts endure; sometimes peace breaks out. WWII, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland come to mind.

What do you think is in Afghanistan's future?

By William Vocke

You may also like

AUG 2, 2022 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 36.2 (Summer 2022)

The editors of Ethics & International Affairs are pleased to present the Summer 2022 issue of the journal! The highlight of this issue is a roundtable organized ...

OCT 29, 2021 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 35.3 (Fall 2021)

The highlight of this issue is a book symposium organized by Peter Balint on Ned Dobos’s "Ethics, Security, and the War Machine," featuring contributions ...

MAR 19, 2021 Podcast

Carnegie New Leaders Podcast: Feminism, Ethics, & International Affairs, with Professor Cynthia Enloe

In this Carnegie New Leaders (CNL) podcast, Dr. Anwar Mhajne, an assistant professor at Stonehill College and a member of the CNL program, talks about ...