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A New Age in Peace Ethics? Pacifism Faced with the Russian Attack on Ukraine

By Friedrich Lohmann

The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has led to a sometimes polemic debate extending well beyond peace ethics circles. At the heart of the controversy, which revolves around issues such as whether arms deliveries are acceptable, is the question of the legitimacy of military force. But extreme bellicist or pacifist positions – an unrestricted Yes to military force to achieve political objectives, or the rejection of any use of force to end an armed conflict – are not advocated by anyone in the current debate.

By rejecting arms deliveries while recognizing Ukraine’s right to self-defense, parts of the peace movement are pursuing a moderate pacifism that is unjustifiably characterized as an “ethics of conviction” in Max Weber’s terms. They claim that its central ideas are rational and scientific, but their main arguments – both the risk of escalation faced with a nuclear-armed aggressor, and the greater effectiveness of civil resistance compared to armed defense – do not stand up to closer scrutiny.

The fact that many in the peace movement are in any case turning away from pacifist positions in light of the war in Ukraine and – according to the concept of just peace – are prepared to accept the state’s use of military force subject to certain conditions and limitations, does not mark a “new age” in peace ethics. It continues a trend that has been observable for some time.

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