Defining a Just War | The Nation


Defining a Just War

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III. MILITARIST APPROACH Unlike pacifism and legalism, militarism poses a practical danger of immense proportions. Excessive reliance on the military will backfire badly, further imperiling the security of Americans and others, spreading war and destruction far afield, as well as emboldening the government to act at home in ways that weaken US democracy. So far the Bush Administration has shown some understanding of these dangers, going slowly in its reliance on military action and moving relatively cautiously to bolster its powers over those it views as suspicious or dangerous, so as to avoid the perception of waging a cultural war against Islam. The White House has itself repeatedly stressed that this conflict is unlike previous wars, that nonmilitary means are also important, that victory will come in a different way and that major battlefield encounters are unlikely to occur.

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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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By ignoring the UN Security Council resolution’s mandate authorizing intervention, NATO may have destroyed the prospects for future legitimate uses of the principle of “responsibility to protect.”

If both sides embrace the fragile cease-fire with leaps of imagination and faith, Israelis and Palestinians could chart an escape route from the inferno.

Such reassurances, however, are not altogether convincing. The President's current rhetoric seems to reflect Secretary of State Colin Powell's more prudent approach, which emphasizes diplomacy and nonmilitary tactics, and restricts military action to Al Qaeda and the Taliban regime. Even here, there is room for dangerous expansion, depending on how the Al Qaeda network is defined. Some maximalists implicate twenty or more countries as supporters of terrorism. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and others are definitely beating the drums for a far wider war; they seem to regard the attacks as an occasion to implement their own vision of a new world, one that proposes to rid the world of "evil" and advances its own apocalyptic vision. This vision seeks the destruction of such organizations as Hezbollah and Hamas, which have only minimal links to Al Qaeda and transnational terror, and which have agendas limited mainly to Palestinian rights of self-determination and the future of Jerusalem. These organizations, while legally responsible for terrorist operations within their sphere of concerns, but also subject to terrorist provocations, have not shown any intention of pursuing bin Laden's apocalyptic undertaking. Including such groups on the US target list will surely undermine the depth and breadth of international support and engender dangerous reactions throughout the Islamic world, and possibly in the West as well.

Beyond this, there is speculation that there will be a second stage of response that will include a series of countries regarded as hostile to the United States, who are in possession of weapons of mass destruction but are not currently related to global terrorism in any significant fashion. These include Iraq, Libya and possibly even Syria, Iran and Sudan. To expand war objectives in this way would be full of risks, require massive military strikes inflicting much destruction and suffering, and would create a new wave of retaliatory violence directed against the United States and Americans throughout the world. If military goals overshoot, either by becoming part of a design to destroy Israel's enemies or to solve the problem of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the war against global terrorism will be lost, and badly.

Just as the pacifist fallacy involves unrealistic exclusion of military force from an acceptable response, the militarist fallacy involves an excessive reliance on military force in a manner that magnifies the threat it is trying to diminish or eliminate. It also expands the zone of violence in particularly dangerous ways that are almost certain to intensify and inflame anti-Americanism. It should be kept in mind that war occasions deep suffering, and recourse to international force should be both a last resort and on as limited a scale as possible.

But there is a fourth response, which has gained support among foreign policy analysts and probably a majority of Americans.

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