The morality of military occupation

Jeff McMahan
Oxford University
The U.S. military has now occupied Iraq for more than five years. This is a long time for one state to impose a military occupation on another. But of course the American occupation of Iraq seems almost momentary by comparison with Israel’s fortyone-year occupation of Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Considering how controversial both these occupations have been, one would expect them to have elicited a substantial body of thought about the moral dimensions of the practice of occupation. But such an expectation would be disappointed. There is, of course, a body of law governing the practice of occupation, but the moral foundations of that law have suffered the same neglect by moral and political theorists that the practice of occupation itself has. As I prepared my remarks for the conference from which this symposium issue is derived, I was surprised to be unable to recall having read or even seen any philosophical discussions of occupation. I own most of the books that have been written on the theory of the just war over the past half century or so, but a search through their indexes turned up only a few entries on occupation, none of which proved, on investigation, to offer significant illumination. I have not, however, had to conjure up a theory de novo. Occupation involves both the threat of military force and, usually, the use of military force; hence it is akin to, and indeed often overlaps with, war (as the alternating references to the occupation of Iraq and the war in Iraq attest). There should therefore be continuities between the morality of war and the morality of..
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