Sunday, January 23

On Just War (part 2)

When considering a doctrine of Just War, the question of "Why?" is the most contentious. What reasons can justify armed assault, in releasing the "dogs of war" on an opposing state? One thread that winds its way in amongst the discussions of those opposing the Afghan or Iraq conflicts currently propose that War is a last and final alternative and to be avoided at great cost. This position regrettably ignores the fact that many things are worse indeed than war. In the recent past, we have resorted to war (or at least armed conflict) to avert genocide. Was that a valid reason? To move further in this discussion it is useful to for a list of some (attempting for all) of the reasons that people have gone to war.
  • Charity War can be enacted as an act of charity. For example as the only method of halting egregious civil rights violations (or injustices) taking place within the borders of a foreign state.
  • Greed or Avarice Expansion, seeking of glory, pride, in fact megalomania (in the part of a ruler), and desire for that which another state possesses has driven many states in the past to use war as a means to satisfy these needs.
  • Defense When attacked, a state will virtually always use war to defend its borders. Additionally, defense can be stated as a reason to attack when it is felt that the opposing state has undeniable malicious intent. Also for example, the Korean war was entertained by the US not so much to defend its borders against a North Korean aggressor, but was seen as a defensive move against global Communism.
  • Expansion To expand the region of control of a state. This is not always just based on Greed or Avarice, but population pressures or for example the doctrine of the US in the 19th century of Manifest Destiny, which was not obviously "greed" but a feeling that the country should naturally expand from "sea to shining sea".
  • Revenge After suffering a defeat or loss, a state or sovereign may choose to lick its wounds and return measure for measure on those who had inflicted past injury.
  • Redress of Wrongs Similar to the previous, but of more virtuous intent, that is to say to recover that which has been taken (Helen of Troy), address the loss of liberty (taxation without representation), or to remove the shackles of an unjust treaty, e.g., one reason stated for Germany entering into WWII, addressing the strictures o the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Contractual Obligation To honor past commitments. Many of the states entering into the "Great War" (WWI) did so to honor treaty agreements. Arguably by numerical measure, most states entering into armed conflict in the 20th century did so to honor treaty agreements.

Which of these reasons can be considered just? Charity, Defense, Redress of Wrongs are Just causes. Contractual obligations can be just depending on the cause (just or not) of one's allies. The rest are not just causes for war.

A final point to consider is that a sovereign must gauge on the one hand the cost of the war with the benefit to its citizens. No sovereign has a accurate view of future events and what the true costs might be. That being said, these questions do not impact the evaluation of a war with respect of whether it might be just or not, just whether it be prudent, which is a different question entirely.

As to the current war which occupies so much of the current discourse, the Iraq conflict, Congress listed the reasons for the conflict as one of defense against suspected WMD efforts. Additional reasons cited were charitable intentions related to alleviating abuses of his own citizens inflicted various ethnic groups within Iraq.