Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Just War doctrine and rationale for war in Libya

I would guess that many people working hard in the north Metro haven’t had time to think deeply about what President Obama described as “the international effort that the United States has led” in Libya. (In my mind it’s a war.) I hardly had the time to read a newspaper last week myself.

But I took the time last night to try to understand what is taking place. I listened to most of President Obama’s speech last night and read every word of the transcript.

For me I will not support a war unless it can measure up to the Just War Doctrine. Wikipedia explains Just War at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_War

The seven criteria of just-war theory are just cause, comparative justice, legitimate authority, probability of success, right intention, proportionality, and last resort.

On a scale of 1-10 with ten being the highest I’ve tried to think through each criteria. I don’t know if this exercise of numbering is helpful, but it helped me clarify my own thoughts.

As I share these thoughts please know that I do it with humility and the understanding that I am not familiar with the country, politics, or situation in Libya. These thoughts are meant as a way to have an objective criteria for going to war. They have nothing to do with my thoughts about the military men and women from around the world who are implementing the war.

Just cause: "8" Defending civilians from genocide is a just cause. The question for me is under what conditions will the United States defend civilians from genocide? Right now the governments of Yemen, Bahrain, Iran, and Syria have killed the people of their nation. If the situation in those countries approaches genocide are we going to intervene?

Comparative justice: "2" I don’t think the current bombings are comparative. If our interest was only to protect civilians then why not put a wall of protection around the city of Benghazi, enforce a no-fly zone, and leave it at that?

Legitimate authority: "7" Being asked by the Arab League to intervene and having a United Nations Security Resolution is helpful. Not having Congress pass a resolution keeps this from being a ten.

Probability of Success: "2" If the purpose of the War is to protect civilians and not to remove Gaddafi from power, then what is going to change in the country? I understand that Obama said that regime change is costlier, but not trying to oust Gaddafi makes the probability of success much lower.

Right intention: "5" This is similar to just cause. I question the Europeans’ motives. Was their interest in preventing genocide more to stop a refugee crisis in their own country or truly to prevent genocide?

Proportionality: "8" I think the benefit of having Gaddafi out of power is proportional to the genocide he threatened to inflict. The only thing preventing this from being a ten is the lack of assurance that the new government will be committed to justice.

Last resort: "10" From what the Obama administration shared the United States had to act immediately or the people of Bengazi would have been slaughtered. If the information they shared is correct, they were at the last resort.

Adding up the numbers in this crude model, I’ve come to 42 out of 70. To me this means that military action is barely justified. I’m not sure myself which number is a threshold for military action.

I would be more supportive with a different strategy. I would rather see the goal of the war to be only protect civilians and not be aggressive or be aggressive and try to remove Gaddafi. I realize that the strategies in the preceding sentence are contradictory, but I would have rather seen one of those strategies compared to the middling strategy that has been articulated.

I am very interested in other people’s thoughts. Please share!


Neil said...

I notice that you haven't made any critical comments on just war theory. Is there room for just war in the kingdom of God or are we as Christians called to a different path than the nations of this world?

Ultimately I think just war theory is fundamentally flawed and in no way lives up to Christ's call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Or as Paul reminds us of Proverbs when he writes to the church in Rome, we are to feed our enemy if they are hungry, and give them something to drink if they're thirsty. I just don't see the part where Jesus, Paul or any of the other contributors to the New Testament, living under the new covenant give any legitimacy to violent retribution by followers of Christ.

Chainoflakesncd said...

Very legitimate points about whether there is room in the Kingdom for Just War. For me what makes war just is if it is done in self-defense and/or if it is done to protect human slaughter. Even then it has to be done strategically. My criticism of the Libya war is the United States has taken a middle ground. I think protecting the citizens of Benghazi from slaughter is a just reason to use force. I'm sure the failure to protect people in Rwanda and the Balkans was part of the thinking. I believe the strategy should be to either only protect them or remove the leader who is causing the evil. Being part of a Civil War is not just in this case.
Maybe our congregations should sponsor a forum on whether the just war doctrine is part of the Kingdom of God.