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February 16, 2003

Just war theory is out of date?

I read Christopher Pearson's, 'Give them graces under fire', column in the Weekend Australian (no link, Feb.15-16, 2003, p. 20) with interest this morning. It is a neo-con engagement with the anti-war position of some of the Archbishops in the Anglican Church (Ian George, Peter Carnley & P. Jensen) and Catholic Church (George Pell and Pat Power). It looked to have a bit more substance than his past columns which have been somewhat light weight.

Maybe, CP. would enlighten us to the Anglican Church's understanding of a just war I thought. I was a bit vague about all that and I was in need of a bit help. I presume that a lot of those marching against the war around Australia would base their actions on the just war doctrine rather than simple anti-Americanism.

The column started off okay. It picked up on the remarks about a just war by Ian George, Adelaide's Anglican Archbishop in an Australia Day sermon. George had said that John Howard's dispatch of troops and ships to the Middle East was "the first time Australia has ever acted in a bellicose way without reference to the principles of a just war".

Good opportunity for CP to say what those principles are. He avoids that completely as he concentrates on 'deployment' bit. So we are left with no idea of what the just war case is. CP says this about 'deployment':

'Plainly this is a forward deployment designed to put pressure on Saddam Hussein to comply with UN resolutions long-breached. The time for debating the principles of just war and whether they are relevant is now, before war becomes inevitable and realises that the jig is up.'

Lets give CP his claim about forward deployment and turn to the just war bit. What are the principles and are they relevant now. CP evades addressing the issue once again. He introduces a wit to undercut their Graces anti-war position:

'As one gallery wit remarked: " Just imagine what they'd made of of the battle of Lepanto, which saved Christian Europe, or when the Turks were at the gates of Vienna," What indeed.'

This is a big point for CP! His column includes a large image this event. The caption says 'the combined forces of Spain, Venice and the Vatican at the Battle of Lepanto, saved Christian Europe from the Turks'.

I have no idea of the relevance of this apart from invoking the clash of civilisations thesis. Saddam Hussein is not planning to invade Europe, the US or Australia. The US, UK and Australia are planning to invade Iraq!

Having made his big point CP then moves to tackle the Arcbishop's argument that UN endorsement is critically important to the just war case.

'Their Graces argument would be more compelling if they paid greater attention to the UN Security Council and the national interests involved. I've heard of no mention of French oil concessions in Iraq (Elf Q Aquitaine) France's trade in supplies of chemical and other arrms or Russia's similar role. The UN is primarily a forum for negotiations. In what circumstances do the French have the right to oppose collective action to recitfy Iraq's internal problems and those it poses to world peace?'

So much for the UN---destroyed by selfish national interest. For the answer to the relevance bit about 'right' we need a bit of help about what the principles of just war would say. See the work on just war theory by Gummo Trotsky. We are not going to get that from Cp because CP is tacitly saying that the just war principles do not apply.(Its a load of old rubbish is what he is really saying). And he makes thsi case with his 'what indeeds' and rhetorical questions---smoke and mirrors.

CP does make his rejection of just war explicit:

'There is a strong case for saying that "just war" [note scare quotes] arguments are irrelevant because the situation is not a conventional war but a matter of international crisis management or police action in circumstances that classical theological argument could not have envisaged or its latter exponents refined with the speed of developing law and technology.'

Australia is a Deputy Sheriff in the US police force. The US is the global cop acting to enforce the law when it is broken by rogue states. I am sure that the US global strategists would understand the US as a global cop. CP reckons he has no need to defend that claim. He moves on:

"A more appropriate starting point might be with St Thomas Aquinas and Grotius, the father of international jurisprudence. Its foundation is the principle of jus cogens---a common understanding of what's right and wrong. Its latter day equivalent is Kant's notion of categorical imperatives.'

That basically means a common understanding of right and wrong universalized for all situations as a sort of moral law which we must abide by. CP then says that this moral law is embodied in legality:

'The concept of legality, as it applies to war, is largely a post World War 11 phenomenon that developed with the Nuremberg trials. In the US, the process of military law derives from international treaties. These are detailed and prescribed terms of engagement, supervised by the US Advocate-General.'

And that's CP's case: displace 'just war' for US military law and global cop.

CP ends by saying that their Graces have little relevance to the ethical case for war with Iraq since, 'their minds are so attuned to chivalrous, premodern solutions.' They are out of date.

My problem with all this is not CPs position per se. It is the way he makes his case for his postion. There is no argument that the just war theory is flawed. It is just pushed away as irrelvant through smoke and mirrors. There needs to be an argument since the US has sent Michael Novak, a conservative Catholic scholar, to Rome to persuade the Vatican that it is pursuing a just war with Iraq. Instead we lots of the rhetorical techniques of ornamentation designed to persuade the reader emotionally without the backbone of an argument.

Thats why it comes across as flim flam.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at February 16, 2003 10:47 AM


The U.N. and customary international law are clear: the preemptive use of force to prevent the hypothetical future use of force is regarded as punitive, not defensive. A preemptive attack is an aggressive act which could fatally damage and weaken the world's global security cooperation.

Posted by: ausyankee at February 17, 2003 02:58 PM

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