In Defense of 'Just War' Thinking | The Nation


In Defense of 'Just War' Thinking

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What gives the just-war approach its current significance is less its appraisal of the past and present response than relevance to the future of the response, and specifically its appraisal of any attempt to rely on war in the aftermath of Afghanistan. Such a prospect has been debated in the media with respect to Iraq. Prudential reasons can be mounted on either side of the argument, although there are persuasive reasons not to go to war against Iraq: breaking the coalition, generating dissent in America, sidelining Israel/Palestine peace efforts, destabilizing several governments in the Middle East, undertaking a difficult and costly military campaign. The normative argument reinforces this prudential assessment: Just-war thinking requires that the side initiating war maintain a burden of persuasion. While Afghanistan was integral to the September 11 operations, Iraqi connections are at most marginal, and quite possibly nonexistent. While Al Qaeda with its suicidal enactment of jihad is undeterrable, Baghdad behaves in a horrible manner but acts to sustain its survival, bargains for advantages and can be contained and deterred by threats and capabilities. There is thus neither justification in relation to the Al Qaeda threat nor necessity with regard to addressing the deformed character of the Iraqi regime. Whether a case exists for humanitarian intervention of a nonmilitary character is another matter, but not one that validates the call to wage war against Iraq.

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Richard Falk
Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University, is the United Nations Human...

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Just-war thinking makes two important contributions to our understanding of the military side of the September 11 response:

§ it provides a provisional and limited endorsement of the Afghanistan war;

§ it reinforces the prudential arguments against military extension of the war on global terror to other settings, most relevantly Iraq.

Such clarity allows us to think more clearly about what should be done post-Afghanistan. From the perspective of coercive diplomacy, what needs to be done is to move forward as efficiently as possible with the nonmilitary aspects of the campaign against global terror, relying on law enforcement techniques and intergovernmental cooperation. The legitimate role of large-scale military operations is thus confined to Afghanistan.

Ever since just-war thinking emerged, initially and most notably in the writings of St. Augustine, there has been an emphasis on the just goals or ends of war, as well as on its just causes and just means. In this regard, there is a consensus among just-war thinkers that the only acceptable purpose of war is to restore peace on a more durable basis. What does such a requirement suggest in the current context? It is here that the broader issues of the US role in the Islamic world should be subject to reappraisal, not to reward the terrorists but to take an opportunity to correct past mistakes of policy and judgment. Solving the Israel/Palestine conflict so as to provide both peoples with independent and secure states with equality of sovereign rights is the first priority. Such a challenge is formidable given the questionable leadership on both sides. But it is time for the international community, along with the United States, to take a more active role in shaping a fair solution and exerting great influence on both sides to accept such an outcome. What this means concretely is that international humanitarian law must govern Israel's occupation and any resumed peace process, and cannot be deferred until negotiations are completed. In this setting, international law provides a framework for discerning fairness, while a contrary deference to "facts on the ground" reinforces the geopolitical disparity between the sides. The current impasse is tragic for both Palestinians and Israelis, implying a dismal future, as well as contributing to regional instability and a deepening of a widely diffused anti-Americanism.

If modernity is to be made to work successfully in the Islamic world it will need to be accompanied by respect for robust traditional cultural and religious identities, as well as the dedication of energies and resources to economic growth. The Iranian revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini should have taught the West such a lesson. Let's hope that the crimes against humanity committed on September 11 are the last such learning experience that Americans are made to undergo. We can fashion out of these experiences an approach to the Islamic world that both promotes our values and serves our interests.

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