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Just War Theory Essay

The Just War Theory is a principle of ethics followed in the military that originated from Catholic and Roman philosophy. The principle has also been put forward by international policy makers in the modern world in holding that conflicts should cater to the needs of political, religious and philosophical justice by following a given code of conduct. There are basically four ways in which war can be thought about. The first is realism whereby war becomes a subject matter of power and necessity so that there is no room for making any analysis on moral grounds.

The second may be called a holy war which is fought to authorize the intimidation or killing of non believers. The third way pertains to a war that can be referred to as something which is fundamentally immoral. The fourth way in thinking about war relates to the human activities that is called a just war, whereby a complete moral reasoning must be made applicable to the activities related to war thus assisting in determining whether the use of force is justified or not.

Wheeler (2002) has defined Just War Theory as one that “determines that a war is just if it satisfies the conditions of the jus ad bellum: just cause, last resort, right intention, reasonable prospect of success leading to a just peace and right authority. However, states that go to war whether for just or unjust reasons must also meet the requirement of the jus in bello. This establishes the absolute and overriding constraint that states are not permitted to deliberately harm the innocent. ”

While accepting these criteria of Just War Theory the conduct of the coalition that initiated the Iraq war will be examined in the light of the given standards. The Just War Theory has helped a great deal in shaping the charter of the United Nations and international laws in regard to wars. The tradition of just war ethically aims at seriously reflecting upon the inviolability of human life and dignity in assuming that all those who may be at variance with us as also those who are against us in war do command the basic right for life and dignity in the same way and to the same extent that we may command.

Historically the tradition of just wars has served to use force within the limits of moral boundaries and has contributed to a great extent in limiting the use of military force than to authorize the same. However the just war theory does tell us that there are instances when the use of force is necessary and morally justified. In order to get a better understanding of the issue it is better to first outline the circumstances under which the War on Iraq was stipulated. It was assumed that Iraq possesses biological weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and seeks to possess nuclear weapons.

Secondly, in view of the history of Iraq, that relates to several instances of aggression and brutality, there was every possibility of Saddam using such weapons in the future, examples of which are present of their use on his own soil when chemical weapons were used to curb attacks in north Iraq. He is also known to have made these weapons available for terrorist activities. The circumstances under which the Iraq war was initiated were quite controversial and it is hard to conclude whether its given objectives were actually the true objectives.

As reported by the Sunday Times (July 2005), “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” (Sunday Times, July 2005). There were questions in regard to the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), which though were not found. There were concerns about such weapons being handed over to terrorists.

Just before the attack on Iraq, it was observed by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (2003) that, there is no credible evidence that Iraq had anything to do with the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or more generally that Iraq is collaborating with al Qaeda against the United States. Hawks inside and outside the Bush administration have gone to extraordinary lengths over the past months to find a link, but they have come up empty-handed” (Walt & Mearsheimer,2003). Walt and Mearsheimer (2003) have said that there was always a conflict in ideology between Bin Laden and the Baath regime in Iraq which believed in secularism.

It was very unlikely that there could have been any collusion between the two because it would have certainly come to light resulting in a violent response from the US. In considering the principle of last resort as provided by the supposition under “Jus Ad Bellum”, it is clear that the US was not under attack by Iraq at that time and there was no indication of any imminent attack by Iraqi coalition forces. The US put forth the argument that the war on terror was in progress since it had been assaulted on 9/11 which provided ground for it to take measures of defense.

But there was no conclusive association found between Iraq and the September 11, 2001 assault and hence the attack on Iraq cannot be taken as measure that was taken as a ‘last resort’. It is argued by several critics that there are several indications about the purported link between the 9/11 attacks and the WMD being entirely superfluous. There was no apparent or proved threat and no prospects of attacks which prove that there was no reason for the US to resort to this kind of invasion at any level.

The only plausible circumstances whereby a coalition could be formed between Al-Qaeda and the Baath Party would relate to a situation whereby Saddam would have unearthed a plan to overthrow him. In this case also the principle of “Jus Ad Bellum” and the consideration in regard to “reasonable prospect of success” is in conflict with the provision of “just cause, right intention” under the Just War Theory. The issue of WMD proved to be insignificant and there was no evidence to nail Saddam on that account or with any association with Bin-Laden.

Arguments have been made that an attack on Iraq would strengthen the possibilities of terror attacks from there thus providing impetus for failure of all actions in this regard. There is reason to believe that the criteria of “Jus in Bello” have not been met by the coalition forces in Iraq. Since most areas of Iraq have been at war since March 2003, it is very difficult to ascertain the exact extent of losses to human life and property. But even in the absence of authentic data in this regard, it is possible to collect information from different sources to get an understanding of the conduct of the coalition force.

Amnesty International had reported shortly after the commencement of the war that it was worrisome to observe that cluster bombs were being used in areas that were heavily populated. It is known that cluster bombs disperse small bombs across large areas without exploding thus making the area a potential threat as in the case of land mines. Wheeler (2002) has pointed out in his analysis of the “Jus in Bello” criteria that a civilian person is “innocent” in not having the “capacity to harm others”, and the several deaths of children and civilians clearly indicate that the criteria has been grossly violated in Iraq.

According to Walzer, “the relevant distinction is … between those who make what soldiers need to fight and those who make what they need to live. So, for example, civilians working in munitions factories may legitimately be killed, but not civilians providing essential utilities. Crucial to the Jus in Bello criteria is the concept of proportionality. This is enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, for example, Article 52(2) which allows states only to attack objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action”.

In the terminology of “Jus ad Bellum”, there is need to revisit the contention that counter insurgency war has links with the broader “war on terror”. President Bush had said that “if we lose [in Iraq], if this young democracy fails, the enemy will be emboldened. They will have resources in which to launch attacks. They have declared their desire to have a caliphate throughout the Middle East, and one of their targets is to topple modern governments”. All evidence suggests that the war in Iraq has not been a just war especially in relation to the war on terror.

While conceiving the war, intentions were not made clear and the cause was never proved. It has not been conclusively proved that it was undertaken as a “last resort” because there was no supposed threat that has been proved. The objectives of curbing terrorist activities and threats were never put forth convincingly although the threats for the same were said to have increased consequent to such a military action. Under the circumstances there were very remote chances of success for bringing peace and authority to curb the conditions prevailing in Iraq.

Although the Just War Theory has had a long tradition it has been criticized for being just relativistic in contradicting the universal philosophical beliefs like the ethic of reciprocity. Humanists who are secular often propagate the Just War Theory on the basis of widespread ethical practices without relying on morality as espoused by Christianity . The theorists for Just War normally display an attitude that morally abhors war while at the same time being ready to agree that war does become necessary at times.

In essence, Just War Theory aims at distinguishing between what is justified and not justified while engaging in war. It aims at conceiving how to restrain the use of arms in a more humane manner so that long lasting justice and peace is established. However in the case of Iraq it is felt that most actions were atrocities that contravened the tenets of “Jus In Bello”. Hence a war that is fought against an insurgency that is considered popular will neither be “Jus in Bello” nor “Jus ad Bellum”.

The attacks of September 11 and the two wars that were fought subsequently have raised national security issues and made them larger than the economic problems facing the US. These developments have resulted in divided opinions and conflicting emotions in regard to the foreign policy to be followed in such times. There is considerable discontent with Iraq which is influencing the shaping of the foreign policy as much as the policies for curbing terrorism.

Americans have now become intensely conscious and concerned about the reduced international respect for the country arising out of disappointment over Iraq. It is believed that the US is now less respected in the international community because the decision of war was wrong. This loss in respect is considered as a major foreign policy in the USA. There is continued discontentment in regard to the manner in which Iraq was handled and public criticism continues to increase about the faulty approach of the Bush administration to national security issues.

A lesson is learnt in that there is no need to act extra fast in using force, but to find diplomatic solutions by all possible means. Most Americans believe that there should be emphasis on relying on the opinion of US allies in the formulation of its foreign policy. The priorities of the American public after 9/11 have changed significantly. Concern over issues not related to terrorism, such as AIDS and dealing with hunger have reduced considerably.


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