Just-War Concerns

Just-War Concerns

The next issue of our magazine Catholic World Report will contain a detailed look at the Vatican’s statements concerning possible war in Iraq. Part of the article contains this look at “Just-War Concerns”:


    A rigorous application of just-war standards to the situation in Iraq does raise several serious questions. These are not questions of moral principle, but questions of how the relevant principles can be applied to concrete political situations. As such, they involve prudential judgments, on which reasonable people may differ. Moreover these questions may best be answered by government leaders, who have access to classified intelligence reports. For that reason the Catechism teaches that the decision about the justice of military action “belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.”

    1) Pre-emptive war.
    How certain are we that Iraq plans a massive attack on the US or its allies?either directly, or through a temporary alliance with terrorists? It is impossible to achieve absolute certainty until the attack actually takes place, and a prudent national leader should not wait that long. What level of probability is sufficient to justify a first strike?
    Some supporters of President Bush have suggested that he erred when he introduced the concept of “pre-emptive” war in the context of the current crisis. A state of war still exists between Iraq and the US (and its allies), they point out; and Saddam Hussein has indubitably violated the terms of the ceasefire that ended the Persian Gulf War. While there is no doubt that Iraq has violated its treaty obligations, is the resulting injustice, in itself, grave enough to justify a war?

    2) Probable success.
    Even when the cause of war is just, military action is not justified unless there is a reasonable prospect of success, and the likely gains outweigh the costs of warfare. In the current case, would the defeat of Iraq allow a happy resolution of the crisis? Or would the conflict lead to new resentments against the West on the part of militant Muslims, and give birth to a new generation of terrorists? The risks of a Muslim backlash must be factored into the moral calculus. Can the crisis in the Middle East be addressed successfully without a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

    3) “Regime change” and proper authority.
    Few observers deny that the US government, as a sovereign nation, has the legal authority to declare war?one of the requirements of the just-war tradition. But can any one nation demand “regime change” in another sovereign country? What form of international agreement is necessary to ratify the demand for a change in one nation’s government? Is the approval of the United Nations necessary for a just war? Is it sufficient? If the persistent violation of UN resolutions makes a country subject to demands for “regime change,” the prime candidate for international sanction is not Iraq but America’s ally, Israel.

These are fair questions with difficult answers and they should not be answered or dismissed lightly. I have considered them carefully myself and have not been moved from my opinion that war in Iraq, based on what I have heard from the President and his staff, will sadly be necessary since Saddam seems unmoved by an other kind of plea.