Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Just War Theory vs. Obama's Libyan Kinetics

Little attention has been paid to the moral question surrounding the Libyan war Kinetic-Limited-Term-Forceful Engagement.

"Little", but not "zero."

Fr. R. Barron goes through the exercise, and concludes that this ....whatever it is.....doesn't meet the criteria. Although the first four criteria are (arguably) satisfied,....

...The Catholic just war tradition teaches that a war can be legitimately waged if and only if there is a reasonable hope of success on the part of the government that authorizes the fighting. For example, a war fought against an overwhelmingly more powerful opponent might be noble and brave, but it wouldn’t be just. But another reason for questioning the reasonable hope of success is the absence of a clearly defined mission and purpose. As I stated above, if we don’t know precisely what it is that we’re fighting for, we cannot, even in principle, determine when and whether we’ve won. A poorly-defined war is one that enjoys no reasonable hope of success. I believe that the strict application of this final criterion would render our action in Libya unjust.

And he then cites Gen. Colin Powell as part of his argument.

HT: CMR

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thankfully, for a war to be just it must meet a lot of criteria.

I think we can even see in Iraq that wars often create more evils than they prevent. The coalition forces in Iraq probably ended up killing many more people than Saddam would have killed had he stayed in power, and the war effort brought the country of Iraq to the brink of a civil war.

We have no clear objective in Libya, and it's a fantasy to think we have any reasonable chance of helping the situation with more bombing.

Grim said...

The principle of 'a reasonable hope of success' is a jus ad bellum principle, that is, a principle directed at the question of when one may start a war. (It's also not one of Aquinas', whose thinking you can read here.)

The question here was not "may we begin a war over this issue?" but "should we stay out of this war and let Qaddafi kill these people?" In other words, it was not a question of whether to start a war, but of whether to intervene in one already in progress.

The moral calculation on the question of "Should I step in to try to stop the slaughter of these people by a tyranny?" is surely different from the question of "may I start a war where there exists a state of peace?"

A second matter: Since the matter doesn't arise in Aquinas but only in recent thinkers, I'm not sure who the good father is citing for his authority on this particular principle. However, just war philosopher Michael Walzer recognizes a specific exception to the 'hope of success' principle in the case of threats of extermination. In that case, you may indeed fight a hopeless battle -- both because there is nothing to lose, and because it is morally best to do so. Since Kaddafi was threatening such against these people, it was perfectly reasonable for them to fight him even if they couldn't win. Once they did, well, we have a right, at least, to help them -- even if we do not have the "responsibility" that the UN is choosing to assert.

Dad29 said...

Fr. Barron is citing more recent Church teachings. (In another part of the article he mentions "modern arms".)

He begins with the foundation of the TA theory, which assumes that the war is 'defensive.'

That's how he arrives at the conclusion of 'not justified.'

Now, then. There is another step which is required in both TA and in the modern thinkers to the effect that 'no other means to stop the war was fruitful.'

I certainly don't recall any noise being made about 'negotiating' with Qaddafy, nor institution of some 'blockade' to squeeze him. Nor do I recall any efforts made to arm-up the insurgents to level the playing field.

The US has stayed away from internal conflicts for good reason: our blood, if not treasure, should be spent for vital national interests.

John Foust said...

To think! Someday this blog might become as anti-war as often as it glorifies violence.