To give a rough overview (thank you, Wikipedia!), the basic principles of classic Just War theory, in terms of going to war (or, if you want to get all fancy and latin, jus ad bellum), are
Just causeOne of the things I've been thinking about is that I'm not sure I would want to live under a completely pacifist government, a la the Quakers, the wonderful Society of Friends whom I admire so much, who, in the strictest construction, won't fight back even when attacked. I do want a government that would be willing to come to my defense as a private citizen. With that in mind, I have to say I think it is a burden laid upon leadership to defend its citizenry in a thoughtful and just way.
The reason for going to war needs to be just and can therefore be recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong. A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations."
While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other. Some theorists such as Brian Orend omit this term, seeing it as fertile ground for exploitation by bellicose regimes.
Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war.
Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
Probability of success
Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical. It may be clear that the other side is using negotiations as a delaying tactic and will not make meaningful concessions.
The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms. This principle is also known as the principle of macro-proportionality, so as to distinguish it from the jus in bello principle of proportionality.
It seems to me that the importance in just war theory is not in proving "why we are right to go to war." Instead it is because in a fallen world, wars do happen and it is important for people of faith to be at the table in some meaningful way, other than saying, "Wars are bad."
The other thing is that Just War theory is actually a theory of interpersonal conflict writ large. One of the reasons I think it would be helpful for us to understand Just War theory is so we can apply it, say, in the case nasty office politics or, you know, church politics. Change "going to war" (or "force")to "confrontation" or "taking legal action" in the jus ad bellum above and see what happens.
In that vein, I remember once running across a parody of Just War theory called the Just Adultery theory. It was supposed to make me see how the Just War theory is merely a pretext for going to war. Unfortunately, even while trying to make it sound bad, the Just Adultery theory makes a reasonable point (i.e. 1. Last Resort. Every other means of getting along must be tried: discussion, advice of a third party, reconciliation of differences, expressions of affection, anything short of adultery.) Given that Jesus says in the gospel of Mark that "A man who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against his wife. In the same way, a woman who divorces her husband and marries another man commits adultery," the Just Adultery theory seems to have very practical applications.
Now, I know I'm being the devil's advocate, here, but believe me, I'm not saying that we should be in Iraq. I don't think we met any of the criteria from jus ad bellum to go to war. Not one. For that very reason, I think people of faith are better prepared to meet the argument of those who claim to be fighting a just war if we know what terms are being used or abused. "War is bad" will cut no mustard.
My thoughts tend toward realpolitik in this matter.
The primary problem I have with Just War Theory is a problem of legitimacy. What I mean by that is that each of the parties in conflict must be able to admit that the other side has equal (peer) status as a sovereign authority.
In the annals of history, I think it will be difficult to find that is ever the case.
If we look at Iraq, knowing as we do now that there was vast manipulation involved and that the real boon to the Bush administration was the event of 9/11, which gave the golden opportunity to push forward a foreign policy against Iraq that WAS ALREADY IN MOTION.
In the facile public remark of President Bush, "they hate us for our freedom," you see the dynamic at work. Invoke the nebulous "they", the nefarious "them." This is not in anyway an acknowledgment that the other side, whatever the other side consists of, is in anyway equal, but rather snidely confers inferiority.
When "I and I" dialogue occurs, when "I and Thou" dialogue occurs, perhaps one could consider that Just War Theory has moved from the text books and into some sort of practice. But the dialogue of war is always tribal dialogue, isn't it? It is never the rational talk of the Scholastics, even less than that of the much later Enlightenment thinkers, where one parleys with one's equal, one's peer. The discussion is always one sided and would never meet the criterion: "all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective" as quoted from the Wiki entry.
Using Bush administration foreign policy as an example, we find that not only did the administration find the Iraq government to be an illegitimate authority, but it also declared the World Court and the United Nations Security Council to be illegitimate authorities. Changes to the Military Commissions Act (made in 2006) have given the Commander in Chief much more latitude with regard to the uses of torture, to the extent that the administration also does not recognize the legitimacy of the Geneva Convention.
The best thing I have seen recently is the suggestion that the War Powers Act be redefined to allow Congressional intervention. If such changes are ratified, that would be a step in the right direction for the US.
For some war humor (sometimes sick), see again (or for the first time) "The Mouse That Roared" and "Dr. Strangelove", films that both feature the brilliant Peter Sellers.
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