"Just War" is Impossible
Just cause, true intention, legitimate authority and proportionality are among the prerequisites of a "just war". As the German author explains, "just war" can never exist and doesn't presently exist in Aghanistan. Let us continue the zeal of Augustine and the UN to outlaw the scourge of war!
"Just War" is Impossible
by Karlheinz Koppe
[This article originally published in: Wissenschaft & Frieden (W & F), 1/94 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.uni.muenster/de/PeaCon/wuf/wf-94/9410503m.htm. Karlheinz Koppe is director of Peace Research in Bonn and vice-president of the catholic peace movement Pax Christi.]
Since ancient times, the overwhelming majority of people have seen a cruel scourge in war while war nevertheless persisted. This contradiction has caused people again and again to reflect about war and seek explanations. One of the first acts of violence, Abel's murder by his brother Cain, the farmer, left no doubt about the answer. Evil, sin, seduces people to violence and war. How does this appear to those resisting violence? Aren't they right in waging war on their side?
The problematic of the "just war" is as old as war itself. In the intellectual world of the ancient Greeks who had no explicit ideas of "evil" and "sin", violence, struggle and war among people were reflections of their world of the gods. This allowed them to see something ordinary in violence, struggle and war. "Conflict is the father of all things," Heraclitus formulated (not "war is the father of all things", an erroneous translation that encouraged a heroicizing writing of history at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century). Thucydides doubted whether war events could be simply ascribed to the will of the gods or the acts of the gods. Rather he saw the causes of war in human fear, greed and ambition and resisted all onesided assignments of blame. He concluded that war was inevitable considering the dominant folly or stupidity.
For the Romans, particularly Cicero, war was a practical and opportunistic means for the advantage of the state. The right of the state to decide over war and peace was in the foreground, not justice. The later jus ad bellum, the right to warfare, was assumed.
Early Christianity unequivocally outlawed war in interpreting the gospel as a message of nonviolence. Christians who entered military service were excommunicated. That changed all of a sudden when Christianity was acknowledged by emperor Constantine (edict of Mailand) in 313 and elevated to a state religion by emperor Theodosius toward the end of the 4th century. Under these conditions, could the church unequivocally proscribe war and forbid military service to Christians? The powerful expected the church's blessing. The bishop of Hippo, Augustine, formulated the theological justification with the term "just" war which very expandable.
Criteria of the "Just" War
Augustine obviously intended to use the term bellum justum to curb and prevent rather than justify war. The criteria that he developed imply that "just" war is impossible. Firstly, there must be a causa justa, a just reason, for a war. This meant that one of the war parties was solely and unequivocally wrong and thus "guilty". Then a recta intentio, a true intention, must exist. The desired well-being of the state must surpass the accepted evil of war and its consequences. What we call today the "proportionality" of warfare and the applied means depends on this criterion. Lastly, war can only be waged by a legitima potestas instituted by God, that is by an authorized government. In other words, a war may only be directed to the production of peace, not to conquest, revenge or punishment. Augustine understood early the inner connection of peace and justice, pax justitia opera - peace is the work of justice.
Augustine recognized the inadequacy of just cause or reason, true intention and legitimate authority. "What are empires other than great bands of robbers when justice is absent?" He also knew how hard it was to identity onesided and unequivocal guilt or culpability. True intention is rare. Nevertheless popes and bishops with the doctrine of the "just war" expected soldiers to be obedient to their authority and march off to war while always pardoning authorities for waging unjust wars. The seed for perverted thinking was laid. Occasionally the church declared itself the authority and waged war while the worldly authority ultimately conquered (in the 19th century of the nation state) and only adopted from bellum justum what really interested all authorities, the jus ad bellum, the right to war. In this understanding, the crusades were justified by the church just as the service of the soldier under clearly unjust authorities as long as the soldier had a firm faith. In the Second World War, catholic deserters were condemned by the church and German bishops and pastors praised Hitler's war as "just".
Franziscus Maria Stratmann, a convinced catholic pacifist, emphasized ten criteria on the bellum justum from the medieval and early modern literature repeating original passages of Augustine and comments from the perspective of the twenties of our century:
"1. Grave injustice on the side of only one of the disputing parties;
2. Serious moral guilt on one of the two sides. Mere material injustice is not enough;
3. Absolutely certain demonstrability of this guilt or culpability;
4. Inevitability of belligerent conflict after breakdowns of all attempts at understanding;
5. Proportion between guilt and penalty. A penalty exceeding the measure of guilt is unjust and prohibited;
6. Moral certainty of the victory of the just cause;
7. True intention of promoting the good and avoiding the evil through war;
8. Just warfare; observance of the limits of justice and love;
9. Avoidance of the grievous shattering of other states not directly entangled in war actions and of the Christian totality;.
10. Declaration of war by a legally authorized government in the name of God for the execution of its jurisdiction."
If one of these prerequisites is absent, the war is "unjust" (Franziskus Maria Stratmann O.P., Weltkirche und Weltfriede, Augsburg 1924).
For Stratmann, there is no "just" war. When the presuppositions are realized one day, then war as such will be overcome. Police powers in the international realm will insure the observance of the law as is already true today within democratic states.
The thesis of the "just" war was completely untenable when the danger arose of not only wreaking havoc on an adversary and conquering but committing mass murder and in the extreme case of extinguishing human civilization. This occurred for the first time in history with the development of weapons of mass destruction, above all nuclear weapons. Therefore the United Nations in its Charta outlawed war in principle and only allowed military defense as collective resistance against an aggressor.
Even when such defense is allowed and ordered as for example against the national socialist German Reich under Hitler, the use of the term "just" war is inappropriate when the havoc of the Second World War and the immeasurable sacrifice are considered. For example, was Dresden's destruction in February 1945 a "proportional" means of warfare if the allies had an opportunity to end the criminal activity of the Nazis? Similar situations can be found in recent history. The war against Saddam Hussein inflicted several times more harm than the aggression of the Iraqi dictator against Kuwait caused. Furthermore, the legitimation of counter-military intervention is controversial in international law since the United Nations did not bear responsibility but left warfare to a group of states under the leadership of the US. In the meantime, the excesses of American/allied warfare are documented, for example the killing of fleeing soldiers in the last combat phase. "Just reason", "true intention" and "legitimate authority" are not clear in this supposedly "just war".
Since war involves and strikes the innocent more than ever, the term "just war" should be consigned to the ashes of history. Even the ideologists of the communist world revolution abandoned this term long before the collapse of Soviet domination. They (Lenin among others) originally substantiated their "doctrine of the just war" in that the use of weapons is always justified when it benefits the emancipation of the working class. However they also recognized that modern war could not serve the interest of the working class if the foundations of existence of society were destroyed.
The churches (and analogously Islam) have great difficulty renouncing on this term that they cultivated and maintained for so long. Again and again, it rises from the ashes. Thus the general secretary of the Lutheran World Alliance, Gunnar Staalseit, expressly reintroduced the term "just war" in the debate in 1994. Whoever propagates this must ask why South Africa's black population unsuccessfully appealed for help for decades against the war of apartheid forced on them. This example alone shows how the term "just war" was used opportunistically.
The United Nations is suddenly suspected of becoming a "warring" party. The United Nations sides with military interventions for which they don't have their own troops but sign on governments - arranging regular hunts of dictators and rebel leaders as in Somalia. UN Secretary general Butros Ghali called that "violence for peace". These are not peace missions or humanitarian measures. These are war actions to enforce the peace based only on the ideas of the general secretary and party governments, not on balancing conflict resolution. German soldiers should be there according to the notion of the German government.
Nevertheless war and military interventions are unsuitable for forcing peace because they don't change anything in the economic, ecological and ethno-national causes of present conflicts. With the statement that there cannot be a "just war", the question is not answered how third parties should act given cruel wars and civil wars as in former Yugoslavia, Caucasus, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and twenty other world regions. Standing by and watching does not make one less culpable than military intervention.
What we need is the development of a credible and effective nonviolent instrumentarium for preventing and ending violent conflicts. The resolution of governments ready to help to apply such measures is necessary: freezing foreign assets of involved parties, embargo on the delivery of all weapons and strategic goods, deployment of UN forces between the fronts and economic assistance since most causes of such conflicts can be referred back to economic poverty and distress. Such determination is lacking in the case of Yugoslavia and other conflicts. This political failure of the community of nations makes "just war" even more incredible. Our hopes may not be directed to "just war" but to a "just peace" that alone can end struggles as in Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Northern Ireland and wherever else they break out.
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