The laws of war are under mounting pressure and yet recent developments in the
ethics of war have encouraged a growing disjunction between ethics and the law.
Is this a problem, and does just war have a responsibility to address it? How then
should we think about the relationship between ethics and law in war? Focusing on
the debates between orthodox and revisionist theorists about principles of liability
and immunity in war, I argue that these are actually about competing conceptions
of justness. Revisionists privilege a ‘best ethics’ approach to justness, whereas
orthodox theorists tend to work within a more rounded conception that embraces
the legal and political dimensions of the regulation of war. I argue that there is a
danger that those revisionist theorists, despite their impressive ethical innovations,
nonetheless operate in a reductive way that does little to assist with the contemporary
plight of law, and may inadvertently offer but ‘miserable comfort’ to those
caught up in the battlefield. In contrast, the just war tradition generally is rooted
in a practice that makes greater allowance for a politically configured concept of
war, and takes more seriously the requirement for effective law.