Wednesday, March 19, 2003

When There Is No Peace

The 'just war tradition' is a theory of statecraft and a form of moral reasoning that traces its origins to St. Augustine in fifth-century North Africa. The just war tradition insists that war can be the sort of thing Christians ought to support, a far cry from those who treat it as a "necessary evil". It holds that the person who uses just force is acting in a way consonant with God's wishes and was, though in a way less praiseworthy than bishops and clerics, is following Christ. In the international debate launched by the 'war against terrorism' and the threat of 'outlaw states armed with weapons of mass destruction,' we can hear echoes of the moral reasoning of Augustine and his successors:

  • What is the just cause that would justify putting our armed forces, and the American homeland, in harm's way?
  • Who has the authority to wage war? The U.S. President? The UN?
  • Is it ever right to use armed force first?
  • How can the use of armed force
    contribute to the pursuit of justice, freedom, and order in world affairs?

The just war tradition is an attempt to think through the public meaning of the great commandment of loving our neighbor. The public good is the ultimate end of just war thinking; defending and advancing the public good is what legitimate governments are for; and that is why provision for the common defense is a moral obligation of states, not an option. The just war tradition begins, in other words, with a judgment about the moral obligations of rightly constituted public authority. This line of thinking starts with a 'presumption for justice,' not a 'presumption against violence.'

The presumption for justice, and for rightly ordered public authority's moral obligation to pursue justice, is what sets the horizon for moral analysis in just war thinking. George Weigel, a modern day proponent of the just war tradition, states that "For fifteen hundred years, as it has been developed amdist the historical white water of political, technological, and military change, the just war tradition has allowed men and women to avoid the trap of moral muteness, to think through the tangle of problems in a decision to go to war and in the conduct of war itself--and to do it all in a way that recognizes the distinctive realities of war."

Classic international relations theory defines a more specific goal within that framework: public authority is to pursue a just peace, the peace of tranquillitas ordinis, the peace of "right order," among nations. Mere Christianity does not teach the possibility of a world without conflict, a utopian fantasy that ill fits biblical religion. However, some political and religious thinkers do teach the possibility of the peace of order, which (in contemporary terms) means, in the words of George Weigel, "the peace of dynamic and rightly ordered political community," meaning that legal and political processes are the primary instruments for resolving conflict. That is the "order" that right–minded governments are to defend and advance in the contemporary world.

According to the tradition, the criteria for judging a war to be just are that it be for a just cause, be declared by a competent authority, have a reasonable likelihood of success, be unlikely to cause more evil than it prevents (e.g., discriminate between combatants and non-combatants), and be a last resort.

  • Just Cause. International terrorism, of which we had a direct national experience with on September 11, 2001, is a delibrate assault, through the murder of innocents, on the very possibility of order in world affairs. That is why the terror networks must be dismantled or destroyed. The peace of order is also under grave threat when vicious, aggressive regimes acquire weapons of mass destruction--weapons that we must assume, on the basis of their treatment of their own citizens, these regimes will not hesitate to use against others. George Weigel says, "That is why there is a moral obligation to ensure that this lethal combination of irrational and aggressive regimes, weapons of mass destruction, and credible delivery systems does not go unchallenged. That is why there is a moral obligation to rid the world of this threat to the peace and security of all. Peace, rightly understood, demands it."

    New weapons capabilities and outlaw or "rogue" states require a development of the concept of "defense against aggression." it makes little moral sense to suggest that the United States must wait until a North Korea or Iraq or Iran actually launches a ballistic missile tipped with a nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon of mass destruction before we can legitimately do something about it. Note that weapons of mass destruction are clearly not aggressions waiting to happen when they are possessed by stable, law-abiding states. No Frenchman goes to bed nervous about Great Britain's nuclear weapons, and no sane Mexican or Canadian worries about a preemptive nuclear attack from the United States. The same cannot be said of Iraq's neighbors. We can conclude that the cause of preventing nuclear devestation or its threat is just.

  • Competent Authority. In the current debate, the question boils down to whether "competent authority" now resides in the United Nations only. Of course, the public authorities of a nation-state have an obligation to defend the security of those for whom they have assumed responsibility. International law recognizes this; the "defense against aggression" concept of just cause shapes Articles 2 and 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. In response to those who say that no government has the moral authority to declare war--e.g., those who suggest that the United States had somehow brought the attacks on itself, by reasons of its dominant economic and cultural position in the world, its Middle East policy, or some combination thereof--scholar David Yuego makes an essential point:

    The authority of the government to protect the law-abiding and impose penalties on evildoers is not a reward for the government's virtue or good conduct. . . . The protection of citizens and the execution of penalty on peace-breakers is the commission which constitutes government, not a contingent right which it must somehow earn. . . . Many or indeed most of the institutional bearers of governmental authority are unworthy of it, often flagrantly so, themselves stained with crime. But this does not make it any less the vocation of government to protect the innocent and punish evildoers. A government which refused to safeguard citizens and exercise judgment on wrong out of a sense of the guilt of past crime would only add the further crime of dereliction of duty to its catalog of offenses.


    That the UN Charter itself recognizes an inalienable national right to self-defense suggests that the Charter does not claim sole authority to legitimate the use of armed force for the Security Council; if you are under attack, according to the Charter, you don’t have to wait for the permission of China, France, Russia, or others of the veto-wielding powers to defend yourself.
    Building coalitions of support for dismantling the international terror networks and denying rogue states lethal weapons capacities is politically desirable (and in some instances militarily essential), but it is doubtful that it is essential. According to George Weigel, "The United States has a unique responsibility for leadership in the war against terrorism and the struggle for world order; that is not a statement of hubris but of empirical fact. That responsibility may have to be exercised unilaterally on occasion."

    That being said, war on Iraq has been authorized by the U.S. Congress, and will be, we assume very soon, by the President of the U.S., who is entrusted with the protection of over a quarter of a billion people. He must do what he can to protect his people, acting not out of vengeance, but out of a realistic assessment of the needs of self-defense, and the needs of global security. Reflecting the global security interests reflected in such a war, the U.S. declaration is backed by a coalition of 45 nations, including Britain and Australia.

  • Likelihood of Success and Likelihood of Causing Less Evil Than It Prevents. The best determination of the military at the President's command is that a war would be very likely to succeed and would bring more good than ill. No targeting of civilians is contemplated, and the U.S. military is in theory powerful enough to distinguish between combatants and non-combtatants without putting its soldiers at unnecessary risk. If this cannot be done without risking many lives, then we will sadly have to expect civilian casualties. If there is a clear and present danger, governments have a responsibility to act, perhaps with much bloodshed, all the while following Lincoln's dictum, "with malice toward none, with charity toward all."

  • Last Resort. The use of proportionate and discriminate armed force is the last point in a series of options, and prior, nonmilitary options (legal, diplomatic, economic, etc.) must be serially exhausted before the criterion of last resort is satisfied. George Weigel states, "For rogue states developing or deploying weapons of mass destruction, a developed just war tradition would recognize that here. . . last resort cannot be understood mathematically, as the terminal point of a lengthy series of nonmilitary alternatives. Can we not say that last resort has been satisfied in those cases when a rogue state has made plain, by its conduct, that it holds international law in contempt and that no diplomatic solution to the threat it poses is likely, and when it can be demonstrated that the threat the rogue state poses is intensifying? I think we can. Indeed, I think we must."

    It can be argued, and in fact has been the policy of many Western nations since the early 1990s, that aggressive intent and the lack of effective internal political controls in some states' regimes demands that they not be permitted to acquire weapons of mass destruction. "Until such point as the international political community has evolved to the degree that international organizations can effectively disarm such regimes," declares George Weigel, "the responsibility for the defense of order in these extreme circumstances will lie elsewhere." Meaning, the U.S. and its coalition partners must be perepared to defend themselves against rogue states if the U.N. has shown itself to be impotent in this regard.

    A Humble Peace. The "peace" sought after, the peace of order, is, admittedly, a humble sort of peace. It can coexist with bruised spirits, broken hearts, and ill will. It is a peace in which swords remain--sheathed or used to defend order--but are not yet beaten into plowshares. It has, however, one great advantage for moral realists, Christian and otherwise: it is a peace that can be achieved in this world, in and among nations through the instrument of politics. It is not the sullen "peace" of a well-run authoritarian regime; it is a peace built on foundations of constitutional, commutative, and social justice. It is the peace that we are now defending in the war against global terrorism and against aggressor states seeking weapons of mass destruction.
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