Sunday, April 6, 2008

When is War Just?

In the 21st century, wars between nations are decreasing while wars between nations and non-nations (ethnic groups, rebels, etc.) are proliferating. As a result, the old model of Just War Theory needs to be revised to accommodate this change in cultural climate. Nicholas Fotion attempts such a revision in his new work, “War & Ethics: A New Just War Theory.” Fotion begins his critique by presenting a general theory of war as understood between nations, “Just War Theory – Regular”:

Before the war begins a nation must have:

Just Cause
currently under attack
been attacked recently
about to be attacked (preemptive strike on identifiable enemy w/knowledge of strike)
protecting an ally currently under attack
protecting an ally that has been attacked recently
to stop a humanitarian disaster

Last Resort
negotiations must have been enacted

Likelihood of Success
a reasonable assessment of victory

overall cost benefit of going to war – gain must outweigh loss

Right Intentions
in relation to Just Cause – intentions must not be imperialistic

Legitimate Authority
war must have support of ruling government

During the war a nation must continue to assess:

specific cost benefit of individual battles – gain must outweigh loss

must target legitimate military targets (not innocent citizens)

Since war is increasingly fought between nations and non-nations groups, Fotion proposes separate criteria for nations and non-nations engaged in war. He calls his theory “Just War – Irregular.”

According to Fotion, nations need not apply last resort because non-nations usually have no centralized authority with whom a nation may negotiate. In addition, since non-nations use secrecy as a tactic in warfare, nations are not held strictly to the discrimination principle - targeting only military targets.

On the other hand, non-nations need not apply a likelihood of success because no rebel group could ever satisfy the principle. Hence, no non-nation could ever be justified in going to war. In addition, non-nations do not have to satisfy legitimate authority due to their loose organizational structure.

The most controversial claim Fotion makes is that a nation may attack a non-nation group that has not necessarily been clearly identified and may not even have been responsible for some not-so-recent attacks on it. In addition to giving general criteria (non-nation group has powerful weapons, is collecting more, gaining new recruits, has plans for a future attack, then it can be attacked.), Fotion states that the variation of these attacks require a case-by-case analysis.

Fotion believes these twin theories provide a new Just War Theory that helps us analyze war in the 21st Century. A war between Russia and the United States would follow “Just War Theory – Regular” while a war between Japan and the Taliban would follow “Just War Theory – Irregular.” Do you think Fotion’s new theory is correct? Is it just? Is it unfairly applied to nations? To non-nations?


71 said...

I obviously haven't read the book. But it seems from what you've written that the Irregular theory makes nearly any asymmetrical war a just war. The criteria laid out in the post seem to be just what the doctor ordered fro the current US administration to call their wars just. No proportionality, no reasonable belief that victory is possible (for the non-nation side) seems we can just go ahead and start shooting when and where we want...worry about cleanup later.

Of course...I'm of the impression that just war is a bit of an oxymoron to begin with, I'm not a pacifist per se, I just think it's more complicated than meeting a set of criteria.

Hanno said...

Even on the 'just war' theory as given, only the American Civil War and WWII qualify as 'just,' and you could against both (hear me Josh?). The ACW because the proportional cost was too high, and WWII because success was questionable.

That no rebellion could be a just war seems right, and goes fits with Aquinas political views, too. An old fashion way to limit irregular wars was to stamp them out as automatically illegitimate. Used to be that all the old aristocracy were on board: To be a legitimate rebellion in old times, some noble man had to be deprived of his rights. He could then justly get others to help. Otherwise, all the nobility in Europe were against it, and helped to suppress it.

The question asked goes to the heart of political philosophy, for it is a question about the legitimacy of violence as a means of achieving political goals. You can ask that question backwards: when is authority legitimate? If illegitimate, what are our legitimate options? But it turns out, these questions are hard.

Hanno said...

We must also think about a just what a war constitutes, since under normal notions, war is a state of expected violence between two states. you could argue that in a civil war, there really are two states... but that is already strange.

But why should statehood matter when it comes to questions of justice and violence, other than the practical one mentioned in the previous post: we limit war by limiting the success of the illegitimate combatants?

Once we eliminate statehood from the equation, the question is not one of just war. It is a question of a just use of violence. Under what conditions can one group of people kill another group of people?

jfinnell said...

Arguably, the Korean War would have been considered Just. North Korea was the aggressor and South Korea's defense + UN involvement was justified (though a case could be made for US air raids on North Korea violating the discrimination principle).

Nevertheless, I concur that it is difficult to ever assess when a war is just (obviously both sides feel justified). Especially considering that Just War Theory (JWT) is more often than not applied retrospectively. Hindsight is always 20/20. With that in mind, JWT is more a tool for historians than philosophers.

To ask when violence is legitimate is at the heart of Just War Theory. Violence is more often than not an "exception" to ethical theory. As an exception, it must be analyzed carefully. JWT may give us the framework within which we may look at violence as an acceptable means of conflict resolution, but it does so after the fact. Moreover, JWT will always be altered on a case-by-case basis. A theory that modifies itself with every case presented cannot be cited as a guide to our thinking. In the case of war (violence), our thinking is shaped by the case at hand not by the theory at large.

Therefore, in my opinion, it fails as a philosophical theory.

Hanno said...

Well, the Korean war fails the standards given: South Korea was not an ally, and we were not defending ourselves.

can a war be legit if, in a Democracy, no legislative action is taken? I doubt it.

jfinnell said...

Well, depends on how you define ally. Certainly South Korea was our ally in the protection of democracy - since North Korea was backed militarily by the USSR and supporting communism.

While America was not defending itself, South Korea most certainly was defending itself against Northern invasion.

However, I agree that within a Democracy legislation must be enacted.

Again, as was stated in our discussion, Just War Theory isn't meant as a strict application of definitions. Rather, the criteria provide a structure to foster critical engagement. Whether JWT qualifies as a full-blown theory is another question entirely.

The primary question still dangles before us: when is war justified?

Hanno said...

Defining ally like that means defending anyone we feel like defending. But we did not defend them because they were being picked on, but because American geopolitical interests were involved. That makes a mockery of 'self-defense.'

We were certainly not protecting a democracy. South Korea was less democratic the Kuwait!

And North Korea went on its own. It was backed by China seriously after the collapse of the north Korean military. But the weapons N. Korea used were left over from the Soviet union's drive in WWII, and the North Korean army had lots of experience fighting during the Chinese civil war.

That being said, Korea had never been divided in her history, and both sides really really wanted a unified Korea... under their own flag. So when the North Koreans collapsed, the South Koreans crossed the parallel to invade the North. This was far more a Korean thing, viewed though communist-capitalist sunglasses. by that time, S. Korea was our ally, and we followed them through N. Korea.