The CSS Blog Network

Ethics on Film: Discussion of “Timbuktu”

Jihadists of the group “Ansar Dine” near Timbuktu, Mali. Image: Magharebia/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs on 25 February, 2015.

2014, 97 minutes. Nominated for Oscar for best Foreign Language Film.

For an American audience used to war movies with explosions, good guys and bad guys, and finite conclusions, the Oscar-nominated, Mauritanian film Timbuktu is a departure. The violence is never gratuitous, most of the jihadists seem like normal (albeit dangerously misguided) people, and, at the end, the fates of the eponymous city and several main characters are left hazy. The people who would most likely choose to see Timbuktu are already numbed by the constant stream of horrific news out of Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan, etc., so this low-key approach is the perfect strategy. We know about the executions, suicide bombings, and coalition airstrikes. But what we don’t realize is, perhaps, the main takeaway from the film: This type of militant extremism, more than anything else, is soul-crushingly boring for the occupied populations. » More

Robust Peacekeeping – A Desirable Development?

Image: flickr/Irish Defense Forces


This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 2 September, 2014.

A UN-sponsored report recently concluded that more than 191,000 people have now been killed in the Syrian conflict. Commenting on the report, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay strongly criticized the Security Council for its inaction. The case of Syria has once again raised the question about the relevance of the UN and its ability to protect civilians. While civilians are being slaughtered on the battlefield, the UN Security Council fails to agree on an appropriate reaction. It may remind us of historical failures of the UN, like in Rwanda and Bosnia. What happened to the promises that “never again” would this happen? » More

Interview – Michael Walzer

Israel and Gaza

Israel and Gaza. Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/flickr.

Professor Michael Walzer is one of America’s foremost political philosophers and public intellectuals. He has written about a wide variety of topics in political theory and moral philosophy, including political obligation, just and unjust war, nationalism and ethnicity, economic justice, and the welfare state. He played a critical role in the revival of a practical, issue-focused ethics and in the development of a pluralist approach to political and moral life. He has published 27 books and over 300 articles, including  Just and Unjust WarsOn Toleration, and Arguing About War. He has served as editor of the political journal Dissent for more than three decades, and is a contributor to The New Republic. He graduated Summa cum laude from Brandeis University with a B.A. in History, studied at the University of Cambridge on a Fulbright Fellowship (1956–1957) and completed his doctoral work at Harvard, earning his Ph.D. in Government in 1961. Currently, he is working on issues having to do with international justice and the new forms of welfare, as well as on a collaborative project focused on the history of Jewish political thought.

Professor Walzer answers reader questions about intervention in Syria, just war in the age of drones, preventing genocide and mass atrocities, and Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. » More

Debating the Use of Force: When Should We Intervene to Stop Mass Atrocities?

 Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 aircraft leaves RAF Marham for operations overseas.

A Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 aircraft leaves RAF Marham for operations overseas. Photo: Cpl Babbs Robinson/Wikimedia Commons

No two crises in recent memory have done more to test the proper use of force by international actors than Libya and Syria. What kind of humanitarian crisis demands international military action, and what kind does not? When should international actors intervene in a recalcitrant country to protect civilians, and when should they not?  The contrast between international action in Libya and inaction in Syria has brought to light the problem of selectivity—the sense that international interventions to protect civilians are not based on consistent principles but on capricious politics. When it comes to military intervention, national strategic interest often trumps international humanitarian norms.

Last year, Robert Pape proposed a new “pragmatic standard for humanitarian intervention,” which stimulated a critique from Gareth Evans and Ramesh Thakur in the spring 2013 issue of International Security. A further response from Pape to Evans and Thakur was also printed. » More

South Africa and the UN Intervention Brigade in the DRC

IDPs leaving Rutshuru

IDPs leaving Rutshuru, DRC. Photo: Al Jazeera English/flickr.

The attention of the world has recently been focused on the humanitarian tragedy of the violent conflict being pursued by various armed groups in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), specifically since the rapid advance during November 2012 of the rebel group known as the March 23 Movement (M23) that operates mainly in the Congolese province of North Kivu.

M23 managed to capture the regional Congolese capital of Goma on 20 November 2012 after the withdrawal of about 2 000 soldiers from the Congolese National Army (FARDC) and 700 Congolese policemen. Goma fell to the rebel group despite the presence of nearly 6 000 armed peacekeepers in the North Kivu province, over 1 500 in the Goma area alone, under the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). This included a battalion of 850 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers, all deployed under a United Nations (UN) Security Council mandate written in terms of Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which allows the use of ‘coercive measures’ (force) in support of mission objectives. With nearly 2 000 000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Eastern DRC and the UN reporting that it had lost access to 30 of 31 IDP camps, international intervention was clearly needed. » More

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