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"USS Cape St. George (CG 71) fires a tomahawk missile in support of OIF" by Kenneth Moll is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

The guiding concern of just war theory is that it is wrong to harm people, therefore it is wrong to harm people en masse, as we do in war. Thus, just war theory stems from the observation that aggression of all kinds requires justification, and the theory attempts to lay out the justification for acts of war. War is aggressive, and it harms and kills individuals as well as damages nations, and therefore we should take seriously the moral weight of the obligations to avoid it. The two principle realms that just war theory addresses are jus ad bellum (justified principles for entering war) and jus in bello (justified principles of conduct within war).

"Bowe Bergdahl" by United States Army is licensed under CC0 Public domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

In June of 2009, 23-year-old Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl deserted his post at Mest Manko in Afghanistan.  Shortly thereafter, he was captured by the Taliban.  He was held as a prisoner of war for five years in deplorable conditions.  In 2014, President Barack Obama’s administration arrived at an agreement with the Taliban. In exchange for Bergdahl’s release, the United States would release five Taliban members from Guantanamo Bay.  The deal was controversial.  Many people felt that the U.S should not have negotiated with terrorists for release of a soldier that deserted his post.

Bergdahl’s case was a hot topic on the campaign trail during the 2016 presidential election.  Now-President Donald Trump commented on it frequently, referring to Bergdahl as a traitor and suggesting that if he could undo the deal, sending Bergdahl back into captivity and returning the detainees to Guantanamo, he would do so.  

"Signing of the Dayton Agreement" by The Central Intelligence Agency is licensed under Public Domain (via Wikipedia)

The glass façade of Kosovo’s parliament building is no stranger to the impact of rocks. A tall wedge of grey and blue, the building stands in the center of downtown Prishtina, Kosovo’s largest city and capital. The square it inhabits is usually a peaceful space, filled with strolling couples, street musicians and men selling neon plastic pinwheels to passersby.  Yet, in recent months, clashes between protesters and riot police have also gripped the downtown, once again pulling the country into the international spotlight.

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“'We don't believe in the Sykes-Picot Agreement.'” by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)

One thing that I noticed when I first heard media coverage of an Islamist group rising to power in Syria was that it was continually referred to as “the group calling itself ISIS” or “the group known as ISIL”.  If it had been one media outlet or one program, it might have slipped by.  But it wasn’t: it was a standardized fixture of official coverage of the group.

In recent months, particularly since the deadly Paris attacks that claimed the lives of 129, there has been a seemingly strategic shift to the word “Daesh” to describe the organization.  Why does this matter?  And what impact does it hold for the future of Western relations to the Middle East?

The view from the White Fortress. Image / Conner Gordon

It was Sarajevo that originally brought me to the Western Balkans. A novel about the Bosnian city, of all things. In high school, I had read Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo, the story of four characters living through the four-year siege of the city. It may have been fictional, but Galloway’s retelling left its mark. When I first searched the name of my study abroad program, it was The Cellist that was on my mind. It was The Cellist that informed my decision to sign up, and The Cellist that colored my initial expectations of the region.

Image / Conner Gordon

It was a chilly afternoon in Belgrade, and my group and I had already seen a lot. For the past few hours we had toured much of the city, stopping at places like the grave of Josip Broz Tito and the National Assembly building. All of the locations we had seen were politically significant in some way or another, part of a crash course on recent Serbian history. But what we were about to see was different.

Image / Conner Gordon

On any other day, Belgrade’s Kalemegdan Park would have been relatively peaceful. Usually it would have been filled with people taking walks, groups of tourists and teenagers meeting their friends. Yet today a large crowd of people had gathered at the edge of the park, at an overlook above the Sava river. Just finishing a political tour of the city, my group and I joined them. In the middle of the crowd stood a cluster of soldiers- some in ornamental dress, others in camouflage – and a brass band to their left. To their right stood a group of politicians in dark suits. and in the middle of it all, half a dozen cannon barrels silhouetted against the sunset.

Image / Conner Gordon

The road through Belgrade was quiet at 4 A.M. Besides the occasional whir of another car speeding by, my taxi was largely alone on the road. Through the windshield I could see the last traces of apartment blocks pass by as we left the outskirts of the city. Somewhere beyond the limits of my vision, I knew the airport waited, its converging neon runway lines already lighting up the pre-dawn darkness.

Lethal Presence by U.S. Air Force/Lt Col Leslie Pratt (Public Domain)

The robots are coming. Slowly and clumsily, perhaps, but they’re coming. At least, it would seem that way, with competitions like The Robotics Challenge taking place. Funded by the Department of Defense, the challenge brought together 24 teams to show off the best and most versatile robots they could, with a $2 million prize for the winner.

Sheikh armed with knife & pistol teaches with outstretched index recruits in IS-Boot-Camp by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann (CC BY 2.0)

Since it first began capturing Iraqi towns in 2014, the militant group ISIS has become notorious for its widespread use of violence and atrocity. However, as Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel point out in The New Yorker, this violence is only one of the qualities defining the Islamic State. For the brutal acts of violence for which ISIS have become famous is juxtaposed with something decidedly more elegant: Arabic poetry. Such poetry, written by militants and figures like Ahlam al-Nasr, the so-called “Poetess of the Islamic State,” offer a key look into the narratives and art forms involved in the Islamic State’s spread.