Just War Theory and Iraq

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I've finished my lecture notes on just war theory, which includes some discussion of how these principles would apply to Iraq. At the end of the day it seems a lot harder to give a clear case against this military action to depose Saddam Hussein. That's about the best I can say for those who opposed it.

Now that I've got the extended entry feature, I'll continue it in that rather than just giving the link to the Word file (which I did, above). Keep in mind that these are just rough lecture notes. Some things might need more explanation than the notes provide, and an argued case would involve fleshing out this skeleton and provided references for some of the claims.

Jus ad bellum (conditions to be met to have the right to go to war):

1. Declared by legitimate authority � highest competent governmental authority
2. Just cause � defense against violent aggression, prevention of certain attack, defense of ally, delivery of others from oppression
3. Right intention aimed at peace, reconciliation and to prevent vengeance
4. Proportionality of the good aimed at to the evil of war
5. Last resort

Jus in bello (principles for limiting conduct in war):

1. Limited ends, e.g. to repel aggression and redress injustice
2. Carried out with means proportional to the offense and the goals
3. Discrimination of targets � no intentional or direct attack on noncombatants (Aquinas� law of double effect: If you can foresee harm to noncombatants, then it�s ok only if that isn�t the intent and only if you can�t achieve the goal without it)
4. Not prolonged without reasonable hope of success within these limits

just cause:
self-defense only (Augustine, Senator Robert Byrd, Rep. Dennis Kucinich)
self-defense to preempt imminent attack (Gov. Howard Dean, Gen. Wesley Clark)
self-defense to preempt attacks before they become imminent (President Bush,
Senator Joe Lieberman, Senator John Edwards)

Humanitarian aid:
some say not a reason for a just war (Pat Buchanan, some libertarians, some greens, Al Sharpton didn�t deny holding it)
Humanitarian aid as a just reason for war (Bush, Dean, Clark, Edwards,
Lieberman)

Argument: it�s morally right to defend those who can�t defend themselves
To stop genocide, to stop unnecessary conflict and keep the peace,
to depose oppressive dictators
You might even think this is a better reason for war, given that
self-defense is self-focused as for one�s own country and humanitarian aid is others-focused, though self-defense is in the interest of others in some way, since the citizens of one�s country are others from the leaders� point of view.

Question: Why some rather than others? How do we pick and choose?Response: You only have so many resources, and you have to use them wisely.
How do you pick? Pick ones we can reasonably accomplish, ones that will have a greater good effect than bad, ones that have more urgent needs for humanitarian aid, ones that combine with other reasons like self-defense especially but maybe even consider which will give greater benefit to the U.S. in terms of resources like oil or future influence in this war-torn part of the world that needs balance and stability.

Self-defense issue with Iraq � WMDs
Possible scenarios:
1. They had them and either destroyed or hid them very well plus hid or destroyed their infrastructure for creating them.
2. They had programs to work at developing them, and Saddam Hussein was led to believe that they had mass stockpiles, but they didn�t.
3. They didn�t have them, but the intelligence community was at fault, and the
Bush Administration did have every reason to believe this was a just war.
(One reason to think this is that the Clinton Administration had the same
view since 1998, as did the Blair Administration in the UK.)
4. They didn�t have them, and they knew the intelligence was bad but went
anyway for other reasons, using this as an excuse. This involves
impugning the Clinton Administration, the Blair Administration, and all
the Republican and Democratic representatives and senators on the
relevant intelligence communities who had access to the same intelligence
agencies. The unlikelihood of all these people being that corrupt favors
one of the first three options.

Humanitarian aid issue with Iraq:
clear sense that unjust dictator oppressed his people
clear sense that life of average Iraqi is better now

A. Why Iraq?

More reasonable to think could accomplish than in some places, peace in Middle East as goal and more potential for achieving that, more stability, more severe human rights violations than most other places, no serious power like China behind them, also threat of WMD at least as something they were pursuing, potential benefit of easier access to oil for U.S., particular violations of UN resolution with suspicious actions while denying

B. Why did they use WMDs as the reason for this war if humanitarian aid would have been just as good a reason or even better?

A former CIA official said he was at meetings where intelligences agencies, Congress intelligence committee members, Bush Administration people discussed all the possible reasons. Some were self-defense-only people. Thus the only reason everyone could agree on was the WMD threat. Also, the UN opposed Kosovo, though NATO supported it. They may have thought the WMD reasons would be more convincing to the UN, and then when they gave up on the UN they added the other reasons that they thought were also good (or maybe even better).

Last resort � War is bad. If it�s not necessary to achieve the goal, then it�s not a just war.

Last resort with Iraq � if UN sanctions and weapons inspections would have resolved the situation, was military action a last resort? It�s hard to see how it would have been. The criticism of the Bush Administration, then, is that the inspections were going well and that information we now have shows that there weren�t any WMDs in Iraq at the time.

The problem with this is that we don�t know that there weren�t weapons but just that we haven�t found any (see above). We do know they were behaving suspiciously, seeming to hide something the day before inspections would happen at certain sites, we do know that some large trucks headed to Syria before the military conflict began, and we do know that members of the U.N. security council were at least suspected of corruption with regard to Iraq (reports of Jacques Chirac telling Saddam Hussein that Iraq would never be invaded if he had anything to say about it, weapons sales traced back to France, Germany, and Russia, and now even charges that Saddam Hussein had bribed numerous officials in many U.N. countries, including France and Russia). The makes it a lot less clear that U.N. sanctions and weapons inspections would ever allow military action regardless of how clear it was that war was necessary.

Legitimate authority � just war theory requires the command to go to war to come from a legitimate authority. If rogue generals or civilians just start declaring wars, it would be chaos. There needs to be a sense of chain of command. But what about revolutions and civil wars (which are really the same thing, except that revolutions have succeeded, and civil wars either have failed or are still in process). Can�t those sometimes be just? The traditional answer is that sometimes the legitimate authority is incompetent or corrupt to administer justice properly. If an unjust power is to be stopped, the legitimate authority structures in place cannot do it. Thus someone lower on the command chain has to do it. But could it be just anyone? Just war theory says that the highest level of command willing to do the just thing (and thus the highest level that�s not corrupt or incompetent to administer justice) is the one to lead the way. So if the American Revolution was just, General Washington would have been the proper one to lead the way.

Legitimate authority and Iraq � It really is a problem for just war theory that someone might go into another sovereign nation and remove a regime from power when nothing had been initiated against the invading nation. Threats had occurred, though, and there was some reason to suspect extremely serious action against the U.S. in the near future if the WMD programs were allowed to continue (see above). But did we have legitimate authority when both we and Iraq had submitted in some sense to the U.N. Isn�t the U.N. the higher authority?

The U.N. corruption charges give the foundation for the response here. It�s not an exact parallel to revolutionary situations, since those are within a country and not between countries, but if the U.N. is corrupt or incompetent (i.e. in bed with the enemy, so to speak), then the highest level of authority below them willing to administer justice would be the proper ones to step in. Given the principle that great power carries great responsibility, the United States would be the most obvious country to lead the way on this issue out of the various countries in the U.N. below the level of the security council. 34 countries have supported the U.S. action, showing widespread support (though not among most of the more influential European countries), and even though the U.N. itself opposed it the Bush Administration can claim significant support within the U.N.

Proportionality of the good aimed at to the evil of war � It�s obvious that if a war leads to more bad than good then it�s a bad war. So a just war requires the good that can reasonably be predicted and envisioned to be good enough that it�s worth the bad.

Proportionality with Iraq � lots of bad things have happened, some of which could be foreseen. Lots of people died in the conflict, some civilians but mostly combatants. There�s been unrest in Iraq, though it�s gone down as key figures leading the revolts have been captured or killed, particularly dropping with the capture of Saddam Hussein. Other terrorist attacks in other countries went up after the military conflict in Iraq, particularly in Palestine. Infrastructure got damaged and destroyed during the fighting. People in some parts of Iraq are less safe in some ways than beforehand. However, many good things have happened. An oppressive dictator is out of power. How many more people would be in the mass graves if he had continued in power? Freedoms previously unavailable are now celebrated. There�s at least cautious acceptance and thankfulness among many Iraqi people for the allied forces� work, in some cases even with great enthusiasm. The Iraqi people are starting to move toward self-governance, though it�s hard to predict how that will turn out. Hospitals, electricity, education, food supply, and lots of other areas of their society are in the process of improving, though there�s lots of progress still to come. When you compare the two, you have to decide which is a better situation. Is the bad so bad that it�s not worth the good? It�s hard to be decisively against it without being a complete pacifist.

Right intention � this is the hardest one to evaluate. Sometimes people have mixed motives, and if they do have a good motive you might think it�s ok, even if there�s additionally a bad motive. Is a war just if I want to do it for bad reasons but also see the good reasons and decide that there are good reasons worth doing it for but also happen to enjoy the idea of getting something out of it for myself? Also, it may be that the good benefit for me or my country is just a little icing that motivates me less than other concerns. If it�s my primary motivation, is it still just if I can give the good motive as one reason I want to do it. Maybe my decision is wrong, but the war is still just. These issues are hard to sort out.

Right intention and Iraq � lots of charges of ill-conceived motives have abounded. It�s all about oil. It�s a desire to get back at him for what he did to Bush�s father (or to complete what his father didn�t finish). The problem is that he does seem sincere in at least some of the other issues. Especially given that the Bush foreign policy changed significantly after 9/11, you have to think he was at least worried about the defense issues. The oil is a concern, but it�s a complicated issue, as I said above, and we can�t know someone�s intentions anyway. The people who made those decisions are responsible for why they made them, and all we can really evaluate is whether there was a right intention that was given, and that�s a lot easier to evaluate (see all the above). So this one is hard to evaluate for someone other than the people making the call. It wouldn�t make it an unjust war per se, but it would question whether the people calling for the war were just in those statements. Ultimately this issue will turn into a debate between those who trust the Bush Administration and those who don�t, but it�s worth acknowledging that we really can�t know someone�s intentions one way or the other.

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5 Comments

I find it interesting that you included �Right Intention� in your list of Jus ad bellum conditions. I�m wondering what your approach is to teaching JWT. The reason I ask is that you list conditions for just war, but my understanding is that there isn�t a single consensus on what constitutes a comprehensive JWT. The inclusion of right intention might help make my point. It is Aquinas in Summa Theologica who really encodes as a part of JWT. Yet if memory serves me right Grotius in De Jure Belli ac Pacis argues against right intention since an individuals intention cannot ever be know. Hence we can only judge and individuals actions. Check Book 2, Chapter 4. I don�t recall that Walzer puts much emphasis on right intention either. I do know that James Turner Johnson does, but Aquinas obviously directly influences him a lot more. Personally I favor the historical approach of building up JWT from Cicero and Ambrose feeding into Augustine�s privileged father position. (I might argue that the roots are actually much deeper than Cicero) Then carrying on through Aquinas, Suarez, Vitoria, Gentili, Grotius, Pufendorf, Wolff, and Vattel. Then maybe you�re prepared to talk about Walzer, Johnson, Nagel, Kelsay, and Reagan. Do you have a particluar book that you are using?

I also found it interesting that you didn't list reasonable chance of success as a jus ad bellum condition.

I'm not really pretending either to give a comprehensive theory myself or to be representing a true consensus that all parties agree on. I'm sort of summarizing the main conditions that have been presented in various different just war theories. I'm using it as a lead-in to other issues later on.

Most of my class time has been spent detailing the varieties of pacifism, teasing out arguments from the students for or against pacifism, evaluating the arguments, and then explaining the points of just war theory, again trying to provoke it out of the students, looking at why each point is included, and seeing how it applies in the Iraq situation.

One class I'm teaching is an introductory ethics class (though junior level, since the school has historical classes for the first two years and then ethics in the third year), so I'm not getting as detailed as a second or third class could. The other one is a contemporary ethics class, so I'm not focusing on the history very much. You seem to know a lot more about the historical details than I do anyway.

I reference the book I'm using (which is really no more than an introductory anthology and highly inadequate for a serious course on the topic) in my pacifism file in my favorite posts list. It's the James White anthology. It's really just one chapter out of a bigger applied ethics text. Half of it is on terrorism, with the first two readings on pacifism and just war. I wasn't as impressed with the just war one, so my notes have kind of gone off in a different direction, plus I wanted to focus on Iraq.

I don't see how Grotius' argument can count against whether a war is just. All it applies to is how we evaluate a war someone else authorized. I'm sort of assuming the general moral view that the moral evaluation of anyone's action involves assessing whether the person had good motives for doing it. Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is in fact morally wrong, even if the action can be abstractly represented as right. When it comes to evaluating others, however, it's too hard to evaluate it to include it, which is why I sort of fade out at the end on that issue. There's not a lot you can say for sure.

Reasonable success sort of falls under proportionality as I was framing it. If there's little chance of success, then I don't see how the likely good that will be achieved is proportional to the likely bad.

"You seem to know a lot more about the historical details than I do anyway."

Maybe, but I don�t have the advantage of all that fine Syracuse training. I have an interest in JWT, but it often seems like an ugly cousin many philosophers don't want to discuss. If you did a survey of academic philosophers I think you'd find few serious scholars who specialize in this area. As an undergrad I was fortunate enough to take a comparative ethics class focusing on Just War and Jihad. I also did an independent study focusing on ancient conceptions of JWT. I argue in one paper that you can do a just war reading of the Iliad. I think it would be a fun way to approach the subject for a class focusing on JWT.

I think I balk at the idea of doing JWT in a nutshell because it is such a big topic that is often overlooked. Probably much the way you�d feel if someone did an hour long Christianity in a nutshell talk. You�d feel some things probably weren�t properly/fully represented.

�All it applies to is how we evaluate a war someone else authorized.�

Well this would seem to be an important point for Grotius since most of what we will ever do is evaluate whether a war someone else authorized was just or not. I think your own comments draw out the fact that right intention is probably an impossible thing to judge. We only have a person�s first had reports and their actions to judge them by. We tend to make the judgment of their intention based on their actions. That said a number of people, Grotius included, have argued that the justifications and the justice of war can be separated from the intentions of the just authority. Philosopher Keith Burgess-Jackson wrote an article for TCS addressing just this point. Rather than rehash what he has written I�ll simply reference Dodging the Issue.

�Reasonable success sort of falls under proportionality as I was framing it.�

I can see this, especially if one is just trying to hit the highlights, but I think a lot of other tinkers have seen the two as separable. I think some of this may hinge on how we think about the condition of proportionality. Often times proportionality is seen to overlap both ad bellum and in bello concerns.

I�ll leave you with two relevant quotes on intention from Grotius.

The effect of right which depends upon a man's intentions can never follow from a bare conjecture of his will, unless he has declared and proved it by some express and visible act. For actions being the only evidence of intentions, intentions can never of themselves alone without such acts be the object of human laws. No conjectures indeed respecting the acts of the mind can be reduced to mathematical certainty, but only to the evidence of probability at the utmost. For men by their words may express intentions different from their real ones, and by their acts counterfeit intentions which they have not. The nature of human society, however, requires that all acts of the mind, when sufficiently indicated, should be followed by their due effects. (Book2, Chpt4)

It is necessary to observe that a war may be just in its origin, and yet the intentions of its authors may become unjust in the course of its prosecution. For some other motive, not unlawful in itself, may actuate them more powerfully than the original right, for the attainment of which the war was begun. It is laudable, for instance, to maintain national honour; it is laudable to pursue a public or a private interest, and yet those objects may not form the justifiable grounds of the war in question. A war may gradually change its nature and its object from the prosecution of a right to the desire of seconding or supporting the aggrandizement of some other power. But such motives, though blamable, when even connected with a just war, do not render the war itself unjust, nor invalidate its conquests. (Book2, Chpt22)

As you said, Just War Theory doesn't come up much in mainstream philosophy. I've had to learn it all on my own, so my Syracuse training hasn't helped me on this one.

One of the things I've tried to emphasize is that the evaluation of the war itself may not track with the evaluation of the decision to go to war.

I did list proportionality in both jus ad bellum and just in bello, so I agree with you on that.

One thing worth mentioning about right intention is that no one has 100% right intentions, pretty much ever. That means just about no decision to go to war is 100% just. That doesn't invalidate the decision or the war. What we strive for is to be as just as we can, and that admits of degrees.

I find it funny that both you and I should agree that Just War Theory is often overlooked in mainstream philosophy, and yet the Eastern Division of the APA can come out with a resolution against the war in Iraq on the grounds of JWT. Of course the whole thing was more politics than philosophy.

Eastern Division APA: The Resolution against war with Iraq passed, 1,202 to 263.

In late January and early February members of the Eastern Division voted by mail ballot on the following resolution concerning war with Iraq:

Resolved, that members of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association express our serious doubts about the morality, legality and prudence of a war against Iraq led by the United States.

Both just war theory and international law say that states may resort to war only in self-defense. Iraq has not attacked the United States, and claims that it is about to do so are not credible. Even in the absence of imminent threat, the United States claims a preemptive justification for war in this case. This claim stretches the meaning of preemption beyond reasonable bounds and sets a dangerous precedent which other states may feel free to follow.

A war waged by the United States against Iraq will be costly in lives, both Iraqi and American, and probably those of other nations. It will likely create disorder leading to more suffering of innocent people in the long term, both within Iraq and elsewhere. It will cost American taxpayers many billions of dollars that would better be used for humane purposes at home and abroad.

The resolution passed, with 1,202 voting in favor and 263 opposed.

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