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Militarism, realism, just war, or nonviolence? Critical geopolitics and the problem of normativity

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Nick MegoranORCiD


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Despite illuminating multiple modalities by which armed conflict is discursively justified, critical geopolitics can be criticised for providing a weak normative engagement with the social institution and practices of warfare. This has limited the impact of this school of thought outside of geography and critical security studies at a time when the ethics of military intervention have been prominent in public debate. This article explores the moral discourse of critical geopolitics through an examination of Gerard Toal's writings on Iraq and Bosnia. This scholarship is reviewed in the light of Coates's typology of major traditions of moral reflection on war - militarism, realism, just war theory, and pacifism/nonviolence. This analysis interrogates Toal's narratives, in which American military intervention was advocated in the Former Yugoslavia and opposed in Iraq. This suggests that rather than a thoroughgoing commitment to pacifism/nonviolence, or a blanket cynicism about American foreign policy, Toal's thinking includes an underlying attachment to some form of just war reasoning. However, its implicit and partial appropriation leads to a certain incoherence and selectivity that calls for further reflection. This presents a challenge to critical geopolitics. If it chooses to engage more explicitly with just war theory, its insights into identity and militarism could in turn inform a reworking of aspects of the theory, thereby facilitating critical geopolitics' engagement with wider public anti-militaristic modes of discourse. However, as this risks blunting the political potential of the project and repeating the mistakes of twentieth-century geopolitical thought, the paper concludes with a call for a wholehearted commitment to nonviolence.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Megoran N

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Geopolitics

Year: 2008

Volume: 13

Issue: 3

Pages: 473-497

Print publication date: 01/07/2008

ISSN (print): 1465-0045

ISSN (electronic): 1557-3028


DOI: 10.1080/14650040802203703


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