This is the second article about Iraq (part 1 is on the Christian News Board) from the Church of Ireland Gazette. Is the "just war" part of the medieval legalism that Orthodoxy rejects?
Can a war against Saddam Hussein be a ‘just’ war?
In the second part of our special two-part feature on the crisis over Iraq, Patrick Comerford asks whether the just war theory is relevant and applicable today.
Archbishop Rowan Williams has warned that a pre-emptive strike against Saddam Hussein could ‘rapidly and uncontrollably spiral down into chaos’. When he was asked by the Church Times recently whether he could see himself supporting military action, he replied: ‘Not easily, no.’
Most Christians agree that war is inconsistent with the New Testament and that the participation of Christians in war must be limited by the demands for justice and peace. But when is a war just? Is the ‘just war’ theory simply a formula to allow Christians to take part in any and all wars? And, can a war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq be regarded as a just war?
Over the centuries, the Christian tradition has produced three approaches to the dilemma posed by war: pacifism, Crusades, and the just war theory. Christian pacifism, with its roots in the Sermon on the Mount and the practice of the early church, demands total opposition to all wars. However, the call to peacemaking cannot be seen as a call to maintain an unjust cessation of violence or to seek peace at any cost.
Nor must the demands of peace always take priority over the demands of justice.
Those who invoke the principles of pacifism in the present crisis are open to criticism if they have not spoken out against the tyranny of Saddam, condemned Iraq’s programme for weapons of mass destruction, or challenged injustice and violence in other parts of the Middle East.
The Crusades found their initial justification as defensive action aimed at protecting Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem. The theological justification of Crusades has long been abandoned and there is no place in international law for either a crusade or a jihad. But the Crusades continued to have resonances during the Cold War era with talk about a crusade against communism, and later in Samuel Huntingdon’s discussion of a ‘clash of civilisations’ between the West and the Islamic world. President Bush too has spoken of a ‘crusade’ against terrorism, and sees targeting Iraq as part of that crusade.
Early formulation of theory
The third Christian approach has been the just war theory. The concept of a just war owes its original formulation not to biblical principles but to Aristotle (who first used the term), Cicero and others. The theory was first framed by Augustine of Hippo, who was exercised by the problem of when a Christian might take part in war with a good conscience. For Augustine, all wars remained sinful and could only be waged in ‘a mournful spirit’. War involved resorting to a lesser evil only in the hope of preventing a greater evil and of restoring justice.
Augustine accepted that the command to love our neighbour included a duty to defend the vulnerable against attack, while the commandment to love our enemy placed moral limits on the use of force.
In the Middle Ages, the church was active in seeking to limit warfare and in 1139 the Second Lateran Council prohibited the use of crossbows, bows and arrows and siege weapons.
Augustine’s theory was refined and developed by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century and by Spanish and Dutch theologians in the 16th and 17th centuries. Their formula for a ‘just war’ passed into international law, so that the Spanish Dominican, Francisco de Vitoria, and the Dutch Protestant, Hugo Grotius, are known to this day as the ‘Fathers of International Law’.
Conditions for a just war
The just war theory does not seek to legitimise, and still less to glorify, war. But it is seen as a method of passing judgment on the morality or immorality of a particular conflict. Today, jurists, theologians and philosophers accept the theory and agree seven conditions must govern a decision to go to war (jus ad bellum) and three conditions must govern its conduct (jus in bello). The seven conditions governing a decision to go to war are:
1. There must be a just cause, such as self-defence or the defence of a neighbour;
2. War must be waged by a legitimate authority;
3. It must be formally declared;
4. Those waging war must have a right intention - they cannot intend, for example, to inflict undue suffering on the enemy state;
5. War must be the last resort;
6. There must be reasonable hope of success and of obtaining a just and durable peace; and
7. There must be a due proportion between the benefits sought and the damage done.
Three conditions govern the conduct of war:
1. Non-combatants must have immunity;
2. Prisoners must be treated humanely; and
3. International treaties must be honoured.
Each and every condition must be met for any conflict to be regarded as a just war.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Hague Conventions codified the theory and after World War II the charter for the Nuremberg war crimes trials and the UN Charter increased international recognition of the theory. The Nuremberg Tribunal established that the just war theory, as Grotius understood it, is universally binding custom.
Applying the theory
Since Grotius, it has been accepted that the just war theory exists externally of any recognised legal system, and that it is part of the ‘law of nations’ followed by all civilised nations.
Therefore, we all have a duty to ask whether a war resulting from the present crisis over Iraq is likely to be a just war.
For example, it might be asked whether this is going to be a war at all, or whether there will be a formal declaration. Archbishop Williams argues that UN consent is a ‘necessary but not a sufficient condition’, and has warned that any action that side-stepped the UN would be ‘disastrous’. The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has indicated that Washington would not necessarily wait for UN approval to strike Iraq. This would leave us without a formal approval by the Security Council, and that the Defence Secretary’s interpretation of a Security Council resolution is good enough as a declaration is unlikely.
Have Washington and London clearly set out their intentions? There might be a just cause if the intention is to stop Iraq illegally acquiring and developing weapons of mass destruction. But is their intention to stop Iraq’s weapons programme, to force Baghdad to abide by Security Council resolutions, or to depose Saddam? Not liking a country’s weapons programme could leave India and Pakistan and many other regions vulnerable to war. Dislike of a country’s president or ruler can never be a legitimate excuse on its own for declaring war.
If Iraq is deemed to have failed to conform to UN Security Council resolutions after weeks and months of pleading and negotiating, some may argue that war is now a last resort. But many states, such as Israel, show persistent contempt for UN Security Council resolutions. A consistent application of international justice would demand war against Israel and, to be ridiculous, perhaps even against the US.
If the intentions in going to war against Iraq are not clearly defined, how can we judge whether there is a reasonable hope of success? And even if those intentions are defined, is war a predictable failure anyway?
After all, Saddam remains in office despite the last war, and despite UN sanctions.
The just war theory also demands a due proportion between the benefits sought and the damage caused. If attacks on the West by al-Qaeda or other terrorist organisations are a foreseen response to a war against Iraq, who can weigh the damage caused in a war against the damage that may result in reaction? On the other hand, the Western powers cannot be blamed for the actions of extremists, no more than the allied bombers can be blamed for Hitler intensifying his programme of annihilating Jews in the concentration camps.
While the principle of proportionality may be sustained by arguing that a war is saving the lives of thousands of people who might be killed by Baghdad’s weapons programme (if it exists), can one Saddam be killed - can thousands of Saddams be killed - to save lives that we cannot quantify and cannot be sure are threatened?
In a just war, non-combatants must be guaranteed safety. The theory does not allow us to dismiss any large-scale deaths of civilians in Baghdad, Mosul or Basra or the huge numbers of refugees and homeless created as mere ‘collateral damage’.
Weaknesses and refinements
Unfortunately, one of the weaknesses of the ‘just war’ theory is that it is often only long after a war is over that we have time and luxury to determine whether all the conditions were fulfilled. A theory that was once useful in ‘conventional warfare’ and that has stood the test of centuries is now becoming outdated by the sophistication of modern weapons and the speed with which war is waged. As the churches and theologians had a role in formulating and refining this theory, perhaps it is incumbent on the churches and theologians today to start debating and seeking a new, more relevant theory.
In the meantime, we can only accept that all our moral decisions are contingent and at best penultimate rather than having ultimate or final value. We are left to confess that war is evil, and accept that many people of good will resort to a lesser evil in the hope of preventing the perpetration of a greater evil.http://gazette.ireland.anglican.org/100103/focus100103.htm