Jus in Bello and Sociology


I recently came across a 2007 film called “Soldiers of Conscience”, which examines the psychological effects of war on soldiers. It provides accounts from 4 US soldiers who enlisted during the latest Iraq war but later sought status as “conscientious objectors”. It appears that one question that the filmmakers asked was “when is killing in combat permissible?”


I have yet to watch it. However, the methodology provoked some thought. The ultimate question of when killing in combat is permissible is a central question of jus in bello or the law of the conduct of warfare. This is a question which clearly transcends its ostensible legal nature into that of other disciplines, such as morality. The filmmakers here were perhaps conducting a little sociological survey of their own. However, this approach is not new.


In “Of War and Law”, Prof. David Kennedy (now at Brown University) built on his previous work in “Dark Sides of Virtue” to examine jus in bello with sociological and linguistic tools. He argues that the language of international law in this field has eroded the personal responsibility of soldiers and politicians in the conduct of war.


He notes, “(t)he problem for military professionals is no longer a lack of humanitarian commitment. The military has built humanitarianism into its professional routines. The problem is loss of human experience of responsible freedom and free decision-of discretion to kill and let live. For military officers and soldiers, renewing the experience of responsibility will require a reinvigorated sense of command responsibility, and an ethic across the force of refusing to allow the permissibility or privilege of force to lighten the decision to kill.”


This begs a follow up question. How are sociology (conducted in this manner) and constructivist theory in international relations methodologically related or unrelated? I suppose while the father of constructivism, Wendt, justified treating states as real, unitary actors to which intentionality can be attributed, he also accepted that the state is an agent of domestic actors. However, he assumes that states are constituted by internal structures that combine a collected idea of the state. Kennedy, on the other hand, peers beneath that assumption to look at the various actors behind the agency.


Is it then possible to achieve a “grand” theory of international relations social constructivism which integrates the two levels of analysis? Or has that been done already?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: