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Complications to Just War Theory

March 13, 2013

The gloss on Just War Theory (posted March 6, 2013) gives a brief historical foundation regarding the theory. The modern era of warfare has greatly complicated the decision process to, and through, armed conflict. The ever changing dynamic of the battlefield has forced theologians and ethicists to reexamine the usefulness of the Just War Theory. Armed conflict not only occurs between nation states, but also between rogue armed individuals, such as terrorists, who ignore international boundaries and find safe harbor in nations who can be threatened by their unwanted visitors. Many times these nations have the same worldview as the terrorists, so they turn a blind eye to their activities. Let me provide an example.

The United States invaded Afghanistan starting with air attacks in October 2001. This action was to oust the Taliban and destroy al-Qaeda. Few would argue with the initial invasion and attacks being ethical under the Just War Theory. Now fast forward to the recent years in this ongoing conflict. The remnants of al-Qaeda, and other terror cells, have been crossing into and out of Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan. Since this activity has started, the United States has carried out precision air strikes and ground strikes with specialized troops to capture and kill terror cells, or individual leaders of al-Qaeda. Some of these strikes have occurred with permission from Pakistan, whereas more recently the Pakistani government has raised international objections to these militaristic incursions of their sovereign nation. Are these incursions covered under the Just War Theory? While capturing a terrorist or shutting down a terror cell may be a just cause, by competent authority fulfilling comparative justice with the right intention, is this a last resort? Even with the probability of success being high and the attack being proportional to the common good, is this incursion valid as it happens without another country’s tacit permission? The Just War Theory either would state this is not a just action as it could create a new war to start with the violated country, or the theory is not prepared to speak to this incident.

Another change to the modern battlefield that casts doubt on the effectiveness of the Just War Theory is the peacekeeping activities necessary to the safety and health of a population. On some occasions these operations are resisted by a local warlord or other nongovernmental agency creating a hostile environment for the humanitarian forces. A case to look at is the humanitarian relief in Somalia in 1993, which turned into an attempt to capture leaders in renegade militia run by a warlord. This humanitarian action sent in military forces that were prepared for the task. Then, this incident turned into a police-like action where the US Army Rangers were called upon to arrest key figures in the militia. This led to the event now known as “Blackhawk Down.” This turned Mogadishu into a hostile combat zone where up to 3,000 Somalis died and 18 American troops died. This type of fluid situation is not covered anywhere in a Just War Theory. A humanitarian mission, turned police effort in support of the seated national government, turned hostile combat zone where children are being used as combatants is not anything Just War Theory is prepared to deal with.

Last, the type of weaponry used in modern warfare raises issues of proportionality. Major world powers have arsenals that include nuclear weapons, tanks, laser guided bombs, GPS enabled missiles and bombs, bombers that can release payload so high you cannot hear them on the ground, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV or drones), which can be controlled from half the world away. Some argue these weapons are disproportionate to the enemy the Western World is fighting today. Their argument is the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Mujahedeen are undermanned and under-armed for a conflict with aircraft and high-tech weapons. Short of the nuclear weapons, this argument can be laid to rest with a quick glimpse at history. These primitive mountain fighters are experts in guerrilla warfare. They withstood an invasion from the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989. Most of the players the United States armed and trained during that era were the same ones they went to war against in 2001. While many of the original fighters are captured or dead, these mountain fighters are still fighting strong in 2013. This is evidence to prove superior weaponry is not necessarily a violation of the Just War Theory as they have met superior weaponry with combat tried and proven tactics to even the playing field.

These two scenarios are proof modern warfare has become so dynamic to demand a new, fresh look at Just War Theory and reevaluate how it is structured and applied. This should be an international effort, embracing input for all countries and faiths. By making this a truly international, and ecumenical or even a sectarian project, it will give everyone a buy in to the results. Although, every nation will not embrace this, it gives them an opportunity to bring fairness to the process.

As the world watches Israel and the Palestinian’s fight, North Korea threatening to launch a nuclear attack and Iran building nuclear weapons, conversations about the process of diplomacy, war, and rebuilding of nations needs to be addressed. Diplomacy is key to the Just War Theory and it should remain in a prominent position. There needs to be a reemphasis of this, a renewal of conversations starting with what a modern Just War Theory should look like in this new era or warfare.

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