Just War Theory and U.S. Foreign Policy: Syllabus

Instructor: Christopher Young

E-mail: cmy5@cornell.edu (expect a reply from my hotmail account)

Office: Goldwin Smith, Room 215.

Available by appointment (just ask!)

Course Description

Under what conditions, if any, can war be just? In a war fought for a just cause, what restrictions, if any, apply to military conduct within that war? Just War Theory is a branch of applied moral theory dealing with these and other questions about the moral legitimacy of warfare. In this class, we will apply the resources of Just War Theory to discuss case studies drawn from recent (and, conditions permitting, actually occurring) conflicts which feature U.S. involvement. The main topic of the class will be U.S. policy on Iraq, particularly the justice of a U.S. imposed "regime change" in Iraq.

Class work will consist of a series of position papers dealing with both theoretical and practical issues, as well as a final term paper. Students of all political stripes–both hawks and doves–welcome.

The main goal of this class is to teach you to write clearly and persuasively about difficult and complex issues. Our topic is ideal for this purpose because the problems involved certainly qualify as difficult and complex. Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that we will need to master two very different areas. First, we will need to get our heads around the facts of the case. This requires an understanding of some of the history of the region, of the geopolitical calculations of the various actors, and of events as they unfold. Second, we will need to develop an appreciation of a sub-discipline of moral philosophy, that of Just War Theory. Neither of these tasks is at all easy. But we will be attempting something even harder than both of these independently: we will be working to produce a coherent, unified piece of writing that demonstrates a mastery of both.

Of course, we won’t just leap in and try to do all this right away. We will start by working through a series of preparatory pieces intended to help you on your term paper. We will also work together, developing our own areas of expertise, and trying to draw connections between these areas in class discussion.


• Required books in this class are:

Coates. The Ethics of War.

Norman. Ethics, Killing and War.

Tripp. A History of Iraq.

Strunk, White and Angell. The Elements of Style.

• You may also want to read:

Walzer. Just and Unjust Wars.

Regan. Just War: Principles and Cases.

• Many of the readings will be posted on Electronic Reserve. To access these, go to the Cornell Library Web Site: http://campusgw.library.cornell.edu/ Click on ‘Course Reserves’ under the ‘Research Tools’ heading. Scroll down to ‘Young, Chris’ in the ‘Instructors’ category.

• You are also expected to make some effort to keep abreast of events as they unfold. I will forward new stories by e-mail occasionally to help you with this.

Grading, Assignments and Course Policies

• Grades break down in the following way:

• Assignment #1: ‘Outlining an argument’ (Not graded)

• Assignment #2: ‘Explicating an argument’ (10%)

• Assignment #3: ‘Position paper’ (10%)

• Assignment #4: ‘Relevance paper’ (10%)

• Assignment #5: ‘Brainstorming for a paper’ (10%)

• Assignment #6: ‘Relevance paper’ (10%)

• Assignment #7: ‘Outline and structure’ (Part of term paper grade)

• Assignment #8: ‘Peer evaluations’ (10%)

• Assignment #9: ‘Term paper’ (30%)

• Attendance and participation (10%)

• You must come to class and take part in discussion. LATENESS WILL RESULT IN A LOWER ATTENDANCE GRADE.

• If you are absent from class, you should contact a classmate to fill you in on anything you’ve missed.

• You are expected to come to class having read the assigned material carefully. Some of the non-philosophical material only needs to be read once. But it will never be enough to read the philosophical material once, even if you read it very carefully. You will find that many of an author's arguments are only clear on a second or third reading. You may also find it helpful to write a (very) brief summary of the reading to assure yourself that you've grasped its main points.

A Few Statements Regarding University Policies

A Statement on University policies and regulations: "This instructor respects and upholds University policies and regulations pertaining to the observation of religious holidays; assistance available to the physically handicapped, visually and/or hearing impaired student; plagiarism; sexual harassment; and racial or ethnic discrimination. All students are advised to become familiar with the respective University regulations and are encouraged to bring any questions or concerns to the attention of the instructor."

A Statement about Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the misrepresentation -intentional or not — of someone else’s work as one’s own. Students will be held responsible for plagiarism, including both deliberate plagiarism and the sort that results from sloppy work habits. Students should also be aware (and should warn fellow students considering plagiarism) that plagiarism is surprisingly easy to detect. Punishments vary but typically include failure in the course and a permanent mark in a student’s record.

I am always available to discuss your concerns about plagiarism. For more on plagiarism, see the sections in Cornell’s Policy Notebook on the ‘Code of Academic Integrity’ and ‘Acknowledging the Work of Others.’ The Code of Academic Integrity is available on the Web at: