Even if war is ethically justified sometimes, does that mean we should create and maintain entire institutions devoted to it? Might the risks of having a military be greater than the risks going without one? Are there no alternative arrangements for national defence? 

These are the questions that formed the basis of a new book by UNSW Canberra academic, Dr Ned Dobos.

“It is not about whether war-making if justified, but about whether war-building is justified. Given the significant costs that a society incurs, and the risks it takes, simply by virtue of maintaining a military establishment, the question of whether even to have one is at least as important as the question of when and where to use it.”

Writing this book to address our understanding of the ethics of preparing for war, rather than the ethics of conducting war, Dr Dobos explores the moral and social costs of militarization, and seeks to start a discussion on the ways in which a civilian population actually compromises its own security by having a war-machine attached to it. 

“Global military spending is approaching 2 trillion dollars annually. What I want to stress in the book, however, is that there is more to the story. The military costs us a lot more than money. There are also significant moral and cultural costs that tend to be overlooked”.  

If there is no military establishment, how can a country protect itself from threats? Dr Dobos sets out to challenge the assumption that militaries always make their countries more secure.

“Wherever there is a military establishment, there is a possibility that it will provoke the very thing that it is meant to deter. A foreign enemy might be driven to attack us not despite our armed forces, but because of them, in an act of fear-induced “defensive aggression”. What this tells us is that a military’s contribution to “national security” is not unequivocally positive.

“And this is not even to mention the threat of military coup. It is not uncommon for armed forces to turn against the state that they are supposed to protect.  

“Moreover, there is mounting evidence to suggest that non-violent methods can be much more effective than violent ones at removing oppressive or unwanted authorities, whether they be foreign or domestic. I am talking about boycotts, strikes, blockades, sabotage, protests, mass non-cooperation and the like,” Dr Dobos said.

“There are countless historical examples of successful non-violent resistance. Of course, non-violence is going to fail sometimes.  But this is true of violence as well, and the historical record gives us no reason to suppose that the latter generally has stronger prospects of success.”

Ethics, Security, and the War Machine: The True Cost of the Military is available now through Oxford Press.