Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Would you like fries with that justifiable cause?

I was abruptly pulled away before I could make my already large post on the ethics of pacifism and just war thinking any larger. I would like to continue expanding a little about the criteria and ethics of just war thinking. In yet ANOTHER post to follow, I will discuss further my own personal stance on the issues.

The traditional criteria for just war are not authoritative, but reflect agreement among most just war thinkers. Some have fewer criteria; others have more. According to Joseph Allen, these criteria are: justifiable cause, legitimate authority, last resort, declaration of war aims, proportionality, reasonable chance of success, and right intention. Within each of these criteria are certain issues which need to be examined by a just war thinker.

For example, what constitutes justifiable cause, a valid reason for going to war? Traditionally, they are "to protect people from unjust attack, to restore rights that have wrongly been taken away, and to defend or reestablish a just political order." A defensive war is also traditionally considered to be a just cause, but in the context of "righting a grave wrong or the defense of a fundamental right." Preemptive strike may even be a just cause, if it is to protect people from unjust attack. Allen acknowledges that these are judgements with which there may be disagreement, but claims that this criterion must be determined, or a war cannot be considered just.
Hopefully, those who are making these judgements are fully informed and conscientiously weighing all circumstances! It is also vital that those making the judgements be required to justify them under examination. But someone has to make these judgements, and that someone must be a legitimate authority. According to Bernard T. Adeney, this criterion is foundational because it must necessarily exist before judgements concerning the justness of a war can be made (Adeney, Bernard T. Just War, Political Realism, and Faith. (ATLA Monograph Series, No. 24). The American Theological Library Association and The Scarecrow Press: Metuchen, N.J. 1988.) The emphasis of this criterion is that the one responsible for making these decisions should have the means by which to make them and ensure that they are carried out if they are, indeed justified and if accepted and legal procedures have been followed. This implies trust in the authoritative body or person of a nation, but not blind or unthinking trust. Allen does not mention what the responsibility of a Christian just war thinker is if he or she disagrees with the conclusions of the legitimate authority, which is certainly an issue at this time. As I am personally aquainted with Dr. Allen, I intend to have a discussion with him soon concerning this issue.

Last resort is, as its name implies, a criterion demanding that all other options short of force have been explored or have been rejected as not acceptable. For example, sanctions are a measure short of force to promote change or reform within a nation, but often the argument is that the time involved in implementing them and waiting for an effect is prohibitive when people’s well being within that nation is at stake. Some would also argue that sanctions hurt the very people whose well being we are trying to ensure. Last resort is another judgement call that is certainly subject to disagreement.

Proportionality is the "lesser of two evils" criterion. It "prohibits resort to war if the evil effects of doing so will likely exceed the evil to be prevented (and the good attained) by going to war." A common objection to this criterion from pacifists is that it reduces individual lives to numbers in an equation. It is also objected that there is simply no way to assess this criterion. Allen acknowledges the inadequacy of our ability to judge proportionality, but claims that it is still very important to try. At the least, this keeps the costs of armed force clearly in the forefront of any decisions made concerning war. Reasonable chance of success is an extension of the proportionality criterion, when success is defined as "effectively attaining the war’s just objectives."

Right intention refers both to motive and objectives. In this criterion, the key is that love is the focus of both motive and objective. In other words, according to Allen, "Christians go to war…out of love for their enemies, as well as for the victims involved." And that war is always waged as a means for a just peace.

Obviously, due to their subjective nature, these criteria cannot function as hard and fast rules. Adeney claims that they "give no guidance as to how to evaluate the moral significance of different levels of threat and risk," particularly as regards war in a nuclear era. Rather, these criteria serve as a framework within which to debate the questions of use of force and lend themselves to the goal of ascertaining the nature of a potential or actual conflict and if a proper, or at least acceptable, Christian response is to engage in it.

Just war thinking is teleologically based in that it is focused towards the goal of determining the justness of a war and the proper response to ensure that it remain just. Just war thinking is deontologically based in the sense that a war must meet these criteria before it can be considered just and before a just war Christian would be justified in participating in it. In this sense, just war thinking does seem to function as "an ethical system," as Lisa Cahill claims it does. This presumes that there are circumstances in which, from a just war perspective, a Christian would be compelled to engage in war as "an expression of faith in God, loyal discipleship to Jesus Christ, and love for all one’s neighbors."

There is also a sense in which just war thinking is teleological in seeking to live within the world, acknowledging the reality of conflict and human sin and the covenant we all share as people of God. There is no clear scriptural directive, there is no sociological or biological imperative that enables us to do this. This is why, although there are many rules and guidelines within just war thinking, it is essentially goal oriented. Just war thinking tends to lend itself to a "lesser of two evils" mentality, with the focus on finding actions which lend themselves to the "lesser."

One could make the claim that just war thinking is also virtue oriented, particularly utilizing the virtues of charity and compassion. Just war thinking is about using those virtues in the context of armed conflict. This tends to be more applicable to just war thinking concerning the means of waging war justly, another fascinating aspect of just war thinking that I hope to explore further at some time.

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