The situation in Libya has again raised the ugly question of war. While we have patiently been waiting for our nation to develop a just and efficient exit strategy in the current wars that we have undertaken the North African and Middle East situation has dug us deeper into further military enterprises (war).
With this blog I do not offer a position on the involvement of the United States with regards to the military operation that has already begun in Libya. The situation as always is complicated. On the surface as we understand it there is the popular movement that is being viciously repressed. Certainly there seems to be legitimate call for justice by the international community under these conditions, especially with the military action being organized through the security council of the United Nations. However we also have the African Union and the Arab League calling for an end to all military activities and with the rapid response of what has taken place one wonders if the rule of “last resort” has been applied.
I will be posting a blog in the next week with regards to the ethic of Christian Non-Violence and the just war tradition. The debate for Christian pacifism vs. just war stems from a theological understanding of Christian eschatology (the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God.) On the one hand we are asked to follow the ways and examples of Christ who exemplified the responsibilities of being a citizen of God’s Kingdom. And yet we exist in a world that continues to experience sin and injustice and so our actions must also apply to the current social reality that awaits a future social perfection. This is what has been called the “Already, Not Yet” dilemma of the Kingdom of God.
In the meantime however the situation of war is again upon us and so I offer two resources for anyone who would like to contemplate this grave and serious situation. To begin with here is a Foreign Policy debate on the Libyan situation with a number of contributors mulling over the pro’s and con’s of this engagement.
Does the World Belong in Libya\’s War? – An FP Discussion | Foreign Policy
The other resource is an excerpt for the U.S. Bishops famous pastoral “The Challenge of Peace.” This long document sets a very thorough consideration of the Catholic pacifist and the just war tradition. I will offer my own comment on this document in my later post but for now I will paste below an excerpt from the document that offers the criteria of just war from the Catholic tradition. You can click on this link to visit the document in its entirety.
Why and when recourse to war is permissible.
a) Just Cause: War is permissible only to confront “a real and certain danger,” i.e., to protect innocent life, to preserve conditions necessary for decent human existence, and to basic human rights. As both Pope Pius XII and Pope John XXIII made clear, if war of retribution was ever justifiable, the risks of modern war negate such a claim today.
b) Competent Authority: In the Catholic tradition the right to use force has always been joined to the common good; war must be declared by those with responsibility for public order, not by private groups or individuals. The requirement that a decision to go to war must be made by competent authority is particularly important in a democratic society. It needs detailed treatment here since it involves a broad spectrum of related issues. Some of the bitterest divisions of society in our own nation’s history, for example, have been evoked over the question of whether or not a president of the United States has acted constitutionally and legally in involving our country in a de facto war, even if – indeed, especially if – war was never formally declared. …
c) Comparative Justice: Questions concerning the means of waging war today, particularly in view of the destructive potential of weapons, have tended to override questions concerning the comparative justice of the positions of respective adversaries or enemies. In essence: which side is sufficiently “right” in a dispute, and are the values at stake critical enough to override the presumption against war? The question in its most basic form is this: do the rights and values involved justify killing? …comparative justice stresses that no state should act on the basis that it has “absolute justice” on its side. Every party to a conflict should acknowledge the limits of its “just cause” and the consequent requirement to use only limited means in pursuit of its objectives. Far from legitimizing a crusade mentality, comparative justice is designed to relativize absolute claims and to restrain the use of force even in a “justified” conflict.
d) Right Intention: Right intention is related to just cause -war can be legitimately intended only for the reasons set forth above as a just cause. During the conflict, right intention means pursuit of peace and reconciliation, including avoiding unnecessarily destructive acts or imposing unreasonable conditions (e.g., unconditional surrender).
e) Last Resort. For resort to war to be justified, all peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted. There are formidable problems in this requirement. No international organization currently in existence has exercised sufficient internationally recognized authority to be able either to mediate effectively in most cases or to prevent conflict by the intervention of United Nations or other peacekeeping forces. Furthermore, there is a tendency for nations or peoples which perceive conflict between or among other nations as advantageous to themselves to attempt to prevent a peaceful settlement rather than advance it.
f) Probability of Success. This is a difficult criterion to apply, but its purpose is to prevent irrational resort to force or hopeless resistance when the outcome of either will clearly be disproportionate or futile. The determination includes a recognition that at times defense of key values, even against great odds, may be a “proportionate” witness.
g) Proportionality: In terms of the jus ad bellum criteria, proportionality means that the damage to be inflicted and the costs incurred by war must be proportionate to the good expected by taking up arms. Nor should judgments concerning proportionality be limited to the temporal order without regard to a spiritual dimension in terms of “damage,” “cost,” and “the good expected.” In today’s interdependent world even a local conflict can affect people everywhere; this is particularly the case when the nuclear powers are involved. Hence a nation cannot justly go to war today without considering the effect of its action on others and on the international community.