What We’ve Been Reading

| June 2021
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Welcome to our roundup of news and current events related to ethics and international affairs! Here’s some of what we’ve been reading this past month:

Photo Credit: Nick Youngson via The Blue Diamond Gallery

The Economic Times: Is tax avoidance unethical? Asking on behalf of a few billionaire friends

ProPublica recently unveiled its latest investigative journalism bombshell, revealing the actual amounts the richest in the United States pay in taxes, and it’s a lot less than one would think. This discovery has opened the door to mass criticism of the loopholes and legal avoidance of tax paying that only the wealthiest few can utilize. Billionaires like Bezos, Musk, Soros, and Bloomberg all take advantage of legal methods of tax avoidance to get around paying income appropriate taxes. While these methods may be legal, are they ethical? This depends on which school of ethics one subscribes to. Ultimately, given the influence the ultra-wealthy have on society, should they be expected to act as leaders in every way, including ethically?

Read more about taxes, financial policy, and ethics in Ethics and International Affairs:

A Luxury Carbon Tax to Address Climate Change and Inequality: Not All Carbon Is Created Equal (March 2020)

The Ethical Imperative of Curbing Corporate Tax Avoidance (2014: Volume 27.4)

Why we need better central bank accountability (June 2016)

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Former Secretary of State John Kerry meets with PM Benjamin Netanyahu at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem on April 9, 2013. Photo Credit: Matty Ster via Flickr

Boston Review: How Israel Weaponizes International Law

Through simultaneously denying and utilizing international law to avoid punishment and justify its occupation, Israel has weaponized international law by putting itself in a paradigmatic state that allows far more flexibility for broad-based military attacks. By repeatedly invoking the right to self defense, it has been able to unleash military force against Palestine without its leaders facing trial for war crimes. According to the opinion of the International Court of Justice, Israel’s use of “self defense” is impossible, as the threat is from within the territory, not from outside it. This essay argues that by utilizing the colonial foundations of international humanitarian law, creating new categories, and interpreting them in ways that justify disproportionate force against Palestinians, Israel has weaponized international law.

Read more about international law and justice in Ethics and International Affairs:

Lengthening the Shadow of International Law (2020: Volume 34.2)

Sources of Firepower for Weaponized Rights (November 2019)

How Not to Do Things with International Law (2018: Volume 32.4)

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Indian Army’s BrahMos Mobile Autonomous Launchers. Photo Credit: Anirvan Shukla via Wikimedia Commons

War on the Rocks: A French Opinion on the Ethics of Autonomous Weapons

In April, France’s defense ministry published an opinion by the Defense Ethics Committee, arguing that fully autonomous lethal weapons are ethically unacceptable, while stating that partially autonomous lethal weapons used under certain conditions could be ethically acceptable. There is consensus in the UN against fully autonomous weapons systems; however, partially autonomous weapons systems use has far less of an international consensus, despite the significant risks they pose to accountability and responsibility, as well as these systems’ susceptibility to hacking, psychological risks on humans, global proliferation, and potential to lower the threshold for the use of force. Coming together internationally on this issue will be crucial for the further development of these systems and the policies around them.

Read more about autonomous weapons, international diplomacy, and ethics in Ethics and International Affairs:

Governing Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (December 2017)

Robots and Respect: A Response to Robert Sparrow (2016: Volume 30.3)

Artificial Intelligence and International Security: The Long View (2019: Volume 33.2)

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Joe and Jill Biden visit the University of California San Francisco’s Center for Advanced Technology. Photo Credit: The White House via Wikimedia Commons

Foreign Policy: Biden’s Plan to Cooperate With Europe on Tech

With the bipartisan move to pass the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act in the Senate on June 8, 2021, the United States makes clear that technological innovation and cooperation with Europe will be vital to stave off Chinese competition. At the U.S.-EU Summit, both entities agreed to launch a Trade and Technology Council, and use it to work together to reshape global technology, with a focus on democratic technology. Establishing democratic autonomy, strategic interdependence, and stepping up as an active partner in rewriting the internet’s rules will play a key role in ensuring the success of this partnership with Europe.

Read more about foreign policy, technology, and the ethics of AI in Ethics and International Affairs:

Realism in the Age of Cyber Warfare (April 2021)

Artificial Intelligence: Power to the People (2019: Volume 33.2)

The Need for Governance of Climate Geoengineering (2017: Volume 31.4)

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