Michael Walzer, author of the seminal "Just and Unjust Wars" at the 2011 McCain Conference. He discussed the challenges of fighting in environments that can be described as morally asymmetric, that is; environments where an enemy does not observe moral restrictions on using non-combatants as human shields and exploits the fact that the good guys do observe these rules. He asked "Can the good guys win without adopting the tactics of the bad guys?"
Walzer struggles with how human shields should be "counted" in such asymmetric environments, and what sorts of relaxation of discrimination strictures should be allowed for the good guys, that is; forces that not only do not use human shields, but intend to target only combatants when they fight. One might say they fight at a disadvantage. A possible reply: In the long run, immoral forces do not succeed. Even if they manage to gain power, they lose because they have not attained the loyalty of the civilian populations they use. On the other hand, moral forces win, if not loyalty, respect. Iraq is a case in point.
Counter: this does not address the really difficult case where it is impossible to fight the immoral force without inflicting large harms to the innocents, because the immoral forces have so thoroughly integrated the innocents into their fighting environment. Think Hamas on steroids here: always fighting from within hospitals, schools etc.. What does the moral force do in that sort of case if the immoral force poses a very significant or existential threat? Suppose the military technology available cannot counteract this strategy. What then?
Walzer also touches, in the Q and A, on the very difficult issue of what counts as success in COIN, that is; when you can say that you have succeeded not only strategically, but with regard to changing the state/culture enough to have removed the possibility of future threat.
These are just a couple of the themes raised. Great talk, from a gentle and smart man, and great questions from the audience.
This video is from the 2011 McCain Conference, sponsored by the Center. More to come! Watch the You Tube page for a complete archive of the 2011 conference. I'll also keep posting here.