Saturday, January 22

On Just War (part 2)

One facet of Aquinas dissertation on Just War is inescapable. He breaks the problem into three:
  • Who can initiate and carry out war? Or Who?
  • What are just causes to enter into war? Or Why?
  • What is the just way to carry out war? Or How?
Each of these topics are large enough to fill the expanse (and more, certainly) of one post each. So, to get started, this post will concentrate on the first question, Who?

Aquinas answered this question in brief, indicating that war is only just if enacted by a sovereign ruler. However, it seems to me that on some occasions revolt against one's sovereign is justified, e.g., When in the course of Human Events .... To be a recognized sovereign ruler two conditions must be met. The sovereign must take on the responsibilities to his or its subjects which are expected of a sovereign and must be recognized by other sovereign bodies as a legal authority. Thus a group of rebels in the hills, revolting against injustice, are not engaging in just war if they have not assumed judicial and civil responsibilities for the people they claim to represent. If they do not, they are just private citizens engaging in a personal attempt to wrest control of that government. This may be an understandable motivation for engaging in conflict, but there is a gap between understanding and justification. Thus, going back to some of the examples from history, the Continental Congress and the Southern states in the Civil war satisfy this criteria while Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon does not.

One other point, I am not going to enter into technical pseudo-intellectual debate about implementation of the reflexive properties of "recognition", e.g., how does the first sovereign body get established or how many other sovereign bodies are required to recognize a given sovereign before it is valid. I'm going to let it rest as a practical common-sense definition.

Summarizing, I concur with Aquinas that a War is not Just when engaged by a group which is not a sovereign body. Further, one recognizes a sovereign body by its actions, in that it fills the civil and legal responsibilities natural to a sovereign, and by recognition. Recognition requires that other sovereign bodies in the international community recognize the body in question.

As to the current war which engages much of this debate (Iraq), Congress certainly had the authority as the sovereign body in the US to engage in War. It remains to be seen whether the other criteria are met, but justification on grounds of sovereignty cannot be questioned.