Archive for the ‘just war’ Category

What Are We Doing in Libya?

Twenty two days after Colonel Qaddafi fired on protesters in Libya, we are now in the middle of war. Well, not of war. We don’t use that term anymore. We are now in the middle of “military engagement,” which effectively means that the US-led coalition is launching cruise missiles over Libya. But a war by any other name is still a name.

Peter Nixon over at dotCommonweal is in agreement, in his post “War. Again.” “Make no mistake;” he writes, “This is not a humanitarian intervention. We are taking sides in a civil war.”

President Bush was justly criticized for his rush to war in Iraq and for not having a clear plan for what to do after we defeated Iraq’s armed forces. Bush’s pace, however, looks positively dilatory compared to the speed with which President Obama, with very little consultation with Congress or the American people, has committed the United States to yet another war to establish a government in a foreign country that is more to our liking.

And if the principle that governments cannot slaughter their citizens with impunity is to be the principle underlying our foreign policy, where are we off to next? Yemen, where army snipers killed 46 people yesterday? There is no shortage of tyrannies in the world. How much of our blood and treasure are we willing to expend to remake the world in our own image?

Historically, Christians have debated whether or not the demands of the Sermon on the Mount should lead the church to oppose all war, or whether some wars might be justified. For the majority of Christendom, the latter side has won. The first major theological justification for the morality of war goes back to Augustine who argues in his letter to Boniface that military engagement is an obligation of neighbor love, and in doing so, lays the foundation for just war theory:

Do not think that it is impossible for any one to please God while engaged in active military service. . . Think, then, of this first of all, when you are arming for the battle, that even your bodily strength is a gift of God; for, considering this, you will not employ the gift of God against God. For, when faith is pledged, it is to be kept even with the enemy against whom the war is waged, how much more with the friend for whom the battle is fought! Peace should be the object of your desire; war should be waged only as a necessity, and waged only that God may by it deliver men from the necessity and preserve them in peace. For peace is not sought in order to the kindling of war, but war is waged in order that peace may be obtained. Therefore, even in waging war, cherish the spirit of a peacemaker, that, by conquering those whom you attack, you may lead them back to the advantages of peace; for our Lord says: “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9 If, however, peace among men be so sweet as procuring temporal safety, how much sweeter is that peace with God which procures for men the eternal felicity of the angels! Let necessity, therefore, and not your will, slay the enemy who fights against you. As violence is used towards him who rebels and resists, so mercy is due to the vanquished or the captive, especially in the case in which future troubling of the peace is not to be feared (Epistle 189).

Following Augustine, Aquinas too treated just war under love or charity:

In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. . .

. . . Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. . .

. . . Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. [The words quoted are to be found not in St. Augustine’s works, but Can. Apud. Caus. xxiii, qu. 1): “True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good.” For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 74): “The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.” (II-II, Q. 40, art. 1).

In addition to the criteria Aquinas lays out for going to war (ius ad bellum), namely, right authority, just cause, and just intent, just war theory also includes attention to the way the war is fought (ius in bello). In other words, the war ought to be proportional. It ought to use only enough force to respond to the threat at hand.

So it this “war” in Libya just? It does seem that the United States is at pains to guarantee that the authority initiating this military engagement is rightful. This is not a case of unilateral action or “coalitions of the willing,” as Ross Douthat points out:

In its opening phase, at least, our war in Libya looks like the beau ideal of a liberal internationalist intervention. It was blessed by the United Nations Security Council. It was endorsed by the Arab League. It was pushed by the diplomats at Hillary Clinton’s State Department, rather than the military men at Robert Gates’s Pentagon. Its humanitarian purpose is much clearer than its connection to American national security. And it was initiated not by the U.S. Marines or the Air Force, but by the fighter jets of the French Republic.

And our cause does indeed seem just. Qadaffi is a pretty wicked guy, especially in recent weeks as he has unleached his troops on those who have risen in protest against his rule, killing many and threatening the country with further disasters. As the Chicago Tribune points out, Libya imports about 90% of its food and other basic necessities, and Qadaffi is likely to use food as a weapon, threatening starvation to those who do not comply.

But what about our intent? In order to determine the justice of our intent, we need to first know what it is, and that is not so easy. President Obama announced at a news conference in Chile this morning that military action in Libya has only a humanitarian intent, namely, stopping the killing of Libyan civilians by Col. Qaddafi’s soldiers. Nevertheless, “it is U.S. policy that Qadafi needs to go.” A recent NYTimes article addresses this point exactly: “Target in Libya is Clear; Intent is Not:”

But there is also the risk that Colonel Qaddafi may not be dislodged by air power alone. That leaves the question of whether the United States and its allies are committing enough resources to win the fight. The delay in starting the onslaught complicated the path toward its end. . . For Mr. Obama, who has explicitly said that Colonel Qaddafi has lost any right to govern, the conundrum is that the United Nations mandate does not authorize his removal. So Mr. Obama now says the goal is limited: to use force to protect the Libyan people and allow humanitarian aid to get through.

An intention is something more than a desire, in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. An intention (proaireton in Greek) is something deliberated upon, something chosen with reason. For Aquinas, intention is an act of the will which “tends toward the end,” but which presupposes an act of reason ordering something to the end (I-II, Q. 12, art. 1). Intention further includes the means to achieving this end: “the will is moved to the means for the sake of the end: and thus the movement of the will to the end and its movement to the means are one and the same thing. For when I say: “I wish to take medicine for the sake of health,” I signify no more than one movement of my will. And this is because the end is the reason for willing the means” (I-II, 12.4).

So in the case of Libya, for the intention to be just, both the means and the end in sight must be just. And there is a lot of question if this is the case in our current engagement. Douthat writes,

Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence. And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they’re often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require. . . Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence. And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they’re often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require.

It seems to me that our intention in Libya has not been established. Qadaffi is a bad guy, and nobody wants him around, but our intention is not to remove him from power. Libyans who rose against Qadaffi are in a bad place right now, but our intention is not to protect them, at least not really, since protecting them would presumably mean a regime-change, and that isn’t our intention at the time. It is terrible to watch a guy like Qadaffi start a new reign of terror in North Africa, but just war principles are in place because war is such a tragic event that it need be only utilized as a last resort, and only with an eye toward guaranteeing a more just peace in the future. This “engagement” in Libya is neither a last resort, nor is the end in sight any better than what we have now: a dictator in control of a country.

Overcoming Realism with the Anabaptist Vision

When Barack Obama was elected, I wrote a post on his connection with Christian realism of the Reinhold Niebuhr variety, which you can read about here.

Christian realism is basically the idea that the world is evil and that in order to fight that evil, you have to get your hands dirty. Christian realism says that an idealistic stance of non-violence allows evil to triumph over good. Although non-violence or pacifism may be an ideal, Christian realists say that this ideal must be subordinated to the utilitarian calculus of political force and violence. Augustine adopted a Christian realist position in advocating an interior ethic of love, but an exterior ethic of expediency. Luther adopted a Christian realist position against the peasants in his treatise “Against the Thieving, Murderous Hordes of Peasants.” Reinhold Niebuhr was the Christian realist par excellence in his support of strong-armed cold war politics.

In a recent op-ed, David Brooks notes that realism is still alive and well in the political philosophy of Barack Obama, articulated so very eloquently in his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize:

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. . . I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

Brooks commends President Obama for a “thoroughly theological” speech which “talked about the need to balance the moral obligation to champion freedom while not getting swept up in self-destructive fervor.” Brooks, himself a Christian realist, clearly finds the president’s moral position a prudent one.

I agree that Obama did a fine job articulating a realist stance and defending his political foreign policy on respectable moral grounds. But remember the context—Obama’s realist speech, which Brooks says “was the most profound of his presidency, and maybe his life,” was given at his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize is meant to acknowledge those idealists like Martin Luther King Jr. who choose not to get their hands dirty, who refuse to succumb to violent tactics even in the defense of a just cause. Such prizes are meant to provide recognition and encouragement to those idealists who provide a witness for what is morally possible, even if it isn’t morally expedient.

Christians like Brooks are supportive of the president’s speech because, since Christianity has existed, Christians have been more comfortable compromising with the world’s evil than they have been resisting the world’s evil with non-violent agape. Those idealistic, non-violent witnesses, minority that they are, are necessary and important reminders of the task to which Christians are called. One group of such idealistic witnesses were the Anabaptists.

The Anabaptists were a group of Christians involved in what was called the “Radical Reformation.” Concerned that reformers like Luther and Calvin were compromising too much in their political stances and failing to live up to the demands of the Christian life, the Anabaptist vision offered a new conception of the essence of Christianity as discipleship (die Nachfolge Christi), the essence of the Christian church as a community of brothers and sisters, and the essence of Christian ethics as one of agapic love and non-violence.

The Anabaptists refused to accept the state church system which reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin were a part of. They did not participate in the government for the precise reason that earthly institutions like the magistracy required moral compromise that the Anabaptists found inconsistent with Christian life. The Schleitheim Confession of Faith, an early Anabaptist collection of beliefs states this as an agreement to separation [from the world]:

A separation shall be made from the evil and from the wickedness which the devil planted in the world; in this manner, simply that we shall not have fellowship with them [the wicked] and not run with them in the multitude of their abominations. This is the way it is: Since all who do not walk in the obedience of faith, and have not united themselves with God so that they wish to do His will, are a great abomination before God, it is not possible for anything to grow or issue from them except abominable things. For truly all creatures are in but two classes, good and bad, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who [have come] out of the world, God’s temple and idols, Christ and Belial; and none can have part with the other. To us then the command of the Lord is clear when He calls upon us to be separate from the evil and thus He will be our God and we shall be His sons and daughters. . .

Therefore there will also unquestionably fall from us the unchristian, devilish weapons of force — such as sword, armor and the like, and all their use [either] for friends or against one’s enemies I would like the records — by virtue of the word of Christ, Resist not [him that is] evil.

In other words, the Anabaptists did not believe that Christ came so that we could continue resisting the corruption of the world with the tools of corruption or using evil to fight evil. Rather, Christ came to liberate us from evil, and by choosing to follow Him, the Anabaptists believed we must necessarily forsake force, violence, and political power of any kind.

Because of their commitment to non-violence and the principle of worldly separation, the Anabaptists had a lot of enemies. From 1527-1560, the Anabaptists were severely persecuted. The 1529 Diet of Spires passed a death sentence on all Anabaptists of either sex [by] fire, sword, or some other way.” The 1551 Diet of Augsburg decreed that any judge or juror who had scruples about executing an Anabaptist be removed from office, fined, and/or imprisoned. As a result of these decrees, thousands of Anabaptists were executed in the 16th century, without trial or sentence. Yet, as Harold Bender writes in his quippy “The Anabaptist Vision,”

The authorities had great difficulty in executing their program of suppression, for they soon discovered that the Anabaptists feared neither torture nor death, and gladly sealed their faith with their blood. In fact, the joyful testimony of the Anabaptist martyrs was a great stimulus to new recruits, for it stirred the imagination of the populace as nothing else could have done.

Bender goes on to conclude:

However, the Anabaptist was realistic. Down the long perspective of the future he saw little chance that the mass of humankind would enter such a brotherhood with its high ideals. Hence he anticipated a long and grievous conflict between the church and the world. Neither did he anticipate the time when the church would rule the world; the church would always be a suffering church. He agreed with the words of Jesus when He said that those who would be His disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Him, and that there would be few who would enter the strait gate and travel the narrow way of life. If this prospect should seem too discouraging, the Anabaptist would reply that the life within the Christian brotherhood is satisfying full of love and joy.

Compare this to Obama’s Nobel speech:

[A]s a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by [Gandhi and King’s] examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason. . . So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another – that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

Understandably, Obama cannot reasonably embrace the Anabaptist vision, but I do think that the Anabaptist vision can embrace Christians who have too long capitulated to the claims of realism. David Brooks seems pleased with the theological underpinnings of Obama’s political philosophy. He writes, “Other Democrats talk tough in a secular way, but Obama’s speeches were thoroughly theological. He talked about the “core struggle of human nature” between love and evil.” While Brooks may be correct in noting the theological underpinnings of Obama’s politics, Christians need to question whether those underpinnings adequately reflect the nature of discipleship to Christ.

Love and evil are not two warring powers, as Brooks so dualistically proposes. What the Anabaptist vision reminds us is that Christian love overcomes evil not by force, but by inspiration and imagination. Christian love, as lived out by the Anabaptists, provides a witness to what is best and noblest in human nature. In the wake of such love, evil simply becomes impotent. The County of Alzey, after executing 350 Anabaptists in Palatinate, was said to exclaim, “What shall I do? The more I kill, the greater becomes their number!” Barack Obama’s speech says that such love cannot ultimately triumph against the world’s evils, and that if good is to overcome evil, force will be necessary. But the Anabaptist vision says otherwise. Heinrich Bullinger, one of the Anabaptist’s enemies and persecutors, wrote that the Anabaptists taught,

One cannot and should not use force to compel anyone to accept the faith, for faith is a free gift of God. It is wrong to compel anyone by force or coercion to embrace the faith, or to put to death anyone for the sake of his erring faith. It is an error that in the church any sword other than that of the Divine Word should be used. The secular kingdom should be separated from the church, and no secular ruler should exercise authority in the church. The Lord has commanded simply to preach the Gospel, not to compel anyone by force to accept it. The true church of Christ has the characteristic that it suffers and endures persecution but does not inflict persecution upon anyone.

It is unfortunate that a peace prize meant to recognize those idealists who believe peace without violence is possible ended up rewarding a spirit of moral compromise this year. But it is even more unfortunate that Christians like Brooks think that Obama’s message is grounded in theology of Jesus Christ. So I will conclude this post with the same words in which I concluded my last post arguing against Christian realism:

As Stanley Hauerwas notes,

Jesus’ cross . . . is not merely a general symbol of the moral significance of self-sacrifice. The cross is not the confirmation of the facile assumption that it is better to give than receive. Rather, the cross is Jesus’ ultimate dispossession through which God has conquered the powers of this world. The cross is not just a symbol of God’s kingdom; it is that kingdom come.”

Jesus does not play power politics. He does not fight the evil of the world on evil’s terms. He does not use violence, power, and coercion to fulfill his mission. Nor does he expect his disciples to. Jesus invites his disciples to his own non-violent love, a love that will indeed overcome the powers of the world, but not through coercion and force.

The Anabaptist vision gives us a glimpse of what Jesus’ non-violent love actually can accomplish.

The Ethics of Private Military Contractors

A couple of days ago, a NYTimes article revealed that Blackwater Worldwide, a private military contracting group, authorized about $1 million in secret payments intended to bribe Iraqi officials to silence their criticism following a September 2007 incident in which Blackwater security guards shot and killed17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.

This incident, disturbing in itself, and as one of my professors described, an example of the “’crony capitalism’ of the entire Iraq war financing coming home to roost” also raises a larger question which the Iraq war especially has surfaced: what are the ethical implications of using private military contractors in modern warfare, and correspondingly, what ethical standards should such contractors be held to?

Private military contractors (PMCs), unlike former private industries, do not provide the goods of modern warfare like the weapons, ammunition, and uniforms, but rather, the actual services of warfare. PMCs perform the functions once limited to state-sponsored soldiers, functions like training forces, logistics, and tactical combat. Basically, every activity available to state militaries can now be, and is, performed also by PMCs. P.W. Singer, in a 2005 interview with the Carnegie Council notes that one of the reasons we rely on the private military contractors is that the conduct of warfare itself has become so complicated that private soldiers simply do not have the expertise necessary to engage the level of technology used in modern combat

”If you were a US Navy sailor serving aboard a guided missile destroyer during the Iraq war,” notes Singer, “serving alongside you would have been twenty contractors from six different companies. They were the ones operating the air defense system, because it has gotten so sophisticated that we can’t keep people in the military to operate it. So we’ve turned to the private market.”

Singer also notes the size of the industry—approximately $100 billion per year in revenue on the global level, operating in over fifty different countries. The biggest client is the US.

“During the ten years leading up to the current Iraq war, the Pentagon entered into over 3,000 contracts with private military companies. . . Just one company in the military support sector, Halliburton and its KBR Division, just that one company has pulled in—depending on who does the accounting—somewhere between $13-16 billion worth of revenue related to the Iraq war. To put that figure in context, $13 billion is 2.5 times what the U.S. government spent (in current dollars) on the entire 1991 Gulf War.”

According the US Department of Labor, there were over 500 PMC deaths in Iraq as of September 2009. That number is way over1000 if you include Afghanistan.

The use of PMCs raises a host of ethical issues with towering implications for how we formulate a contemporary just war doctrine. The Just War Theory (JWT) provides rich normative categories with significant historical precedent with which to analyze the ethics of war. Typically, JWT is divided into two areas–ius ad bellum and ius in bello, the ethics of going to war and the ethics of fighting in war, respectively. Ius ad bellum requires that the war has a just cause, namely, self-defense; that the war is waged by a legitimate authority, typically the head of state; that the war has a high probability of success; that the intention of going to war is to establish a just peace; that the war is a proportional response to the threat at hand; and that the war is the last resort, namely, that the head of state declaring the war has attempted a number of other means of peaceably resolving the conflict.

If all other recourses fail, and a state goes to war, ius in bellum requires that the mode of combat is proportional, meaning that military attacks cannot be excessive in relation to the threat they face (no atomic bombs, e.g. against a developing nation without adequate combat technology) and most importantly, that non-combatants be granted protection. The principle of distinction between combatants and non-combatants ensures that only soldiers be included as military targets.

From the normative perspective of JWT, there are a number of ways with which to analyze the ethical implications of PMCs. One might argue that the use of PMCs violates the principle of just intention, namely, that PMC’s intention for going to war is not the establishment of a just peace but rather financial gain. This raises larger practical problems. A soldier who goes to war fights in obedience to the state in pursuit of the intentions delineated by the state. PMCs go to war because they have been hired to do so. They are bound not by obedience to the military, but obedience to the contract. Ass Tony Coady argues, “someone who hires his gun to the highest bidder or, less dramatically, fights predominantly for money will typically lack the motive appropriate to war, as specified by just war theory.” James Pattison calls this the “mercenary motive.” This is not to say that PMCs might not have very good motives, like patriotism, for going to war, but under the normative guidelines of JWT, the presence of an unsuitable motive (i.e. financial gain) seems objectionable as just according to ius ad bellum guidelines.

Additionally, the use of PMCs raises serious ius in bello questions such as how the principle of noncombatant immunity may apply in a war of contractors operating alongside military. Whereas state-sponsored soldiers are subject to legal measures that restrict the conduct of warfare, PMC personnel operate largely outside the effective jurisdiction of national and international law. Additionally, the status of PMCs under international humanitarian law is ambiguous. It is unclear whether PMCs can legally be defined as “combatants,” raising further questions about whether they can be granted prisoner-of-war status under Article 4 of the third Geneva Convention. James Pattison writes,

The problem is that this lack of effective legal accountability results in impunity. In Iraq, for instance, a number of PMC employees have been implicated in human rights abuses of civilians, but almost none have been prosecuted. More specifically, in his testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee, the investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill claims that while there have been sixty-four courts-martial of regular soldiers on murder-related charges in Iraq, only two private contractors have faced criminal prosecution.

This brings us to the article mentioned in the first paragraph of this post regarding Blackwater’s responsibility for 17 Iraqi civilian deaths. The normative force of JWT is that it should limit as much as possible the horrors of war by limiting the moral and legal right to wage war and by limiting the way in which war can be conducted. The use of PMCs, despite some advantages, does exactly the opposite of what the JWT strives to do—it opens up the possibility for more, not less, warfare.

First, the use of PMCs makes it possible for states to wage more wars. Despite the decline in the size of most state militaries, a potential disincentive to going to war, states now do not only have to rely on military might in order to successfully wage war. This makes it more likely that a state will choose to go to war rather than seeking alternative means of resolving conflicts that do not put military personnel in harm’s way.

Second, soldiers are strictly limited legally and morally in what they can and cannot do during warfare. Soldiers wear the uniform of the US and thus they represent not only themselves, but also their country. The morality of their acts reflect the morality of the nation they serve. In winning the hearts and minds of a conquered nation in and after warfare, it is critical that military personnel behave inscrutably, and they are given multiple incentives and disincentives to do so. PMCs have no such allegiance, and no such limitations to their behavior. They do not wear the US uniform, or necessarily even serve under the US flag. They represent only themselves, and not necessarily a greater collectivity, in their operations during warfare. Thus, they are less likely to limit the sort of actions they engage in, as we see in the Blackwater case.

Last, the use of PMCs blurs the lines of command in battle. The military’s strict hierarchical structure and protocol guarantees that in the stress of battle, each individual knows who he is accountable to. The use of PMCs, especially in cases where PMCs are hired for their technical expertise, raises the possibility of soldiers having to choose between two authorities in the heat of battle. The collapse of protocol leads to chaos, and in war, chaos leads to death.

As with most ethical inquiries, there is no clear-cut right or wrong. The use of PMCs in contemporary warfare is advantageous for many reasons that I did not lay out in this post. But when it comes to the ethics of warfare, the spirit of JWT is to limit warfare, largely by rendering the decision to go to war, and the possibility of fighting a war, as inefficient as possible. PMCs are directly contrary to that spirit of JWT. While there may be circumstances in which their use could be justified, I think that JWT theory demands we conclude that their general use is not just.

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