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Defining a Just War | The Nation

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Defining a Just War

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IV. LIMITING MEANS AND ENDS Unlike in major wars of the past, the response to this challenge of apocalyptic terrorism can be effective only if it is also widely perceived as legitimate. And legitimacy can be attained only if the role of military force is marginal to the overall conduct of the war and the relevant frameworks of moral, legal and religious restraint are scrupulously respected.

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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.

Excessive use of force in pursuing the perpetrators of September 11 will fan the flames of Islamic militancy and give credence to calls for holy war. What lent the WTC/Pentagon attack its quality of sinister originality was the ability of a fanatical political movement to take advantage of the complex fragility and vulnerability of advanced technology. Now that this vulnerability has been exposed to the world, it is impossible to insure that other extremists will not commit similar acts--even if Osama bin Laden is eliminated.

The only way to wage this war effectively is to make sure that force is used within relevant frameworks of restraint. Excessive force can take several forms, like the pursuit of political movements remote from the WTC attack, especially if such military action is seen as indirectly doing the dirty work of eliminating threats to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories and Jerusalem. Excessiveness would also be attributed to efforts to destroy and restructure regimes, other than the Taliban, that are hostile to the United States but not significantly connected with either the attack or Al Qaeda.

The second, closely related problem of successfully framing a response is related to the US manner of waging war: The US temperament has tended to approach war as a matter of confronting evil. In such a view, victory can be achieved only by the total defeat of the other, and with it, the triumph of good.

In the current setting, goals have not been clarified, and US leaders have used grandiose language about ending terrorism and destroying the global terrorist network. The idea of good against evil has been a consistent part of the process of public mobilization, with the implicit message that nothing less than a total victory is acceptable. What are realistic ends? Or put differently, what ends can be reconciled with a commitment to achieve an effective response? What is needed is extremely selective uses of force, especially in relation to the Taliban, combined with criminal law enforcement operations--cutting off sources of finance, destroying terrorist cells, using policing techniques abetted, to the extent necessary, by paramilitary capabilities.

Also troubling is the Bush Administration's ingrained disdain for multilateralism and its determination to achieve security for the United States by military means--particularly missile defense and space weaponization. This unilateralism has so far been masked by a frantic effort to forge a global coalition, but there is every indication that the US government will insist on complete operational control over the war and will not be willing to accept procedures of accountability within the UN framework.

The Administration has often said that many of the actions in this war will not be made known to the public. But an excessive emphasis on secrecy in the conduct of military operations is likely to make the uses of force more difficult to justify to those who are skeptical about US motives and goals, thus undercutting the legitimacy of the war.

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