Thursday, September 27, 2012

Just War and other oxymorons

The Just War doctrine has a long, greasy, sordid, sold-out, rationalizing history, starting in the East, possibly, with the Mahabharata, the Indian epic, which launched and contained such debates. Just War started in the western canon not with St. Augustine and his so-named doctrine, but with Aristotle, who pronounced the only just war as one Greeks waged against non-Hellenes. Brilliant. Augustine spruced that up for Christians to give the Holy Roman Empire an official excuse to wage war but to deny legitimacy to insurgencies. Jesus might have arched an eyebrow at that maneuver.

900 years later, Aquinas gave it that tricked-out set of special impressive flourishes and ornamentation and finally, in the 20th century, liberation theology was tacked on.

It's all moot. Justifying violence is at once easy and impossible. Give me any case of violence and I'll construct you a philosophical justification for it. Anyone who studies conflict can do that. Understanding that justifying war is no longer the challenge but rather that constructing a strategic plan to transform any conflict toward constructive means and ends is the new serious challenge, the modern realpolitik--that is the interesting line of logic.

And so we are still plagued with 'debates' about whether the invasion and occupation of Iraq was just or not, including a bloviating peer-reviewed piece in the academic journal, International Affairs from late 2011 (Fisher & Biggar). One interesting reductio rephrase of the entire Just War Doctrine from these two scholars is, "In other words, is the war in question likely to bring about more good than harm?" (p. 687). Really? That is the Just War Doctrine in other words? Even though the actual version reads (from Wikipedia):

Jus ad bellum

Just cause
The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. 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."
Comparative justice
While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to overcome 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.
Competent authority
Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war. "A just war must be initiated by a political authority within a political system that allows distinctions of justice. Dictatorships (e.g. Hitler's Regime) or deceptive military actions (e.g. the 1968 US bombing of Cambodia) are typically considered as violations of this criterion. The importance of this condition is key. Plainly, we cannot have a genuine process of judging a just war within a system that represses the process of genuine justice. A just war must be initiated by a political authority within a political system that allows distinctions of justice".[20]
Right intention
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;
Last resort
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.
In modern terms, just war is waged in terms of self-defense, or in defense of another (with sufficient evidence).

Jus in bello

Once war has begun, just war theory (Jus in bello) also directs how combatants are to act or should act:
Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of distinction. The acts of war should be directed towards enemy combatants, and not towards non-combatants caught in circumstances they did not create. The prohibited acts include bombing civilian residential areas that include no military targets and committing acts of terrorism or reprisal against civilians. Moreover, combatants are not permitted to target with violence enemy combatants who have surrendered or who have been captured or who are injured and not presenting an immediate lethal threat.
Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of proportionality. An attack cannot be launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality).
Military necessity
Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of minimum force. An attack or action must be intended to help in the military defeat of the enemy, it must be an attack on a military objective, and the harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. This principle is meant to limit excessive and unnecessary death and destruction.
Fair treatment of prisoners of war
Enemy soldiers who surrendered or who are captured no longer pose a threat. It is therefore wrong to torture them or otherwise mistreat them.
No means malum in se
Soldiers may not use weapons or other methods of warfare which are considered evil, such as mass rape, forcing soldiers to fight against their own side or using weapons whose effects cannot be controlled (e.g. nuclear weapons).
Methinks Fisher and Biggar might be reducing it a bit ad absurdum. The Bugs Bunny version.

And now, with the research showing such a strong advantage to using nonviolence, the last remaining justification for war is gone. Just War Doctrine: Rest in Peace. No presente!

FISHER, D., & BIGGAR, N. (2011). Was Iraq an unjust war? A debate on the Iraq war and reflections on Libya. International Affairs, 87(3), 687-707. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2346.2011.00997.x