Just war framework provides guidance on Iraq intervention


The question of whether war with Iraq is justified is contentious, and I believe that reasonable people can disagree on the issue. When attempting to determine the justness of action against Iraq, it is useful to have a framework that can guide one’s reasoning. Following the just war tradition first advanced by St. Augustine, I believe that war is justified when: (1) there is a just cause; (2) there is a competent authority; (3) the means are proportionate and (4) war is a last resort. The just war theory is built on the duties of charity and justice to one’s neighbor. Thus, there are times when a nation has a moral duty to enforce a reasonably just world order to protect itself and others. Whether each criteria has been met is a prudential question, and heavily fact dependent. The final prudential judgment of whether a war is just resides with the competent authority.

A just cause is probably present here. This is the most difficult because the answer to the question is so heavily dependent on a number of interrelated variables: Does Saddam Hussein have weapons of mass destruction (which can harm the United States or many others) and if not, when will he get them? If he has or will soon get them, will he use them? Against whom will he use them? Does Saddam have ties to terrorists who have or are attempting to harm the United States?

President Bush and Secretary of State Powell have offered strong evidence that Saddam has thousands of pounds/gallons of chemical and biological weapons, that he continues to seek to procure nuclear weapons and that he has ties to international terrorism. As U.N. Chief Inspector Hans Blix noted succinctly: “Many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for.” If Bush is right, as I think he is, and if Hussein will use those weapons, as he has previously and as I think he will again, then I believe the United States has a just cause for war.

Each nation, as a sovereign, has a duty to enforce, as St. Augustine put it, the “tranquility of order” insofar as it can. I believe the United States is a competent authority to enforce the just order. It has the power to do so and the will to do so in a just manner. The United States bears the burden of enforcing world order because it can and because other nations will not. As a result, the United States need not await the U.N.’s permission. The United States may want to have allies and U.N. permission for prudential reasons but there is no principled reason to desire them. The U.N. has been singularly unimpressive in its handling of such crises in the past. Further, the Chinese veto (those same Chinese who have crushed dissent and Tibet) makes the Security Counsel a mockery of morality.

President Bush (in light of the congressional resolution on Iraq) is the competent authority within the United States to analyze the situation and come to a prudential conclusion regarding whether war against Iraq is legitimate. President Bush is privy to information the rest of the world is not and is thus in the best position to make the decision.

War must be proportionate. To determine whether a war would be proportionate one must weigh the chance of and gravity of harm against the good of the end pursued. Iraq, as discussed above, poses a threat to world order, and removal of Saddam would greatly enhance regional and world security. The number of innocent people who will be harmed (and other damage) is difficult to gauge. Much depends on whether Saddam seeks to fight to the end, whether his army remains loyal to him, what weapons he chooses to use, and how many people he places in harm’s way by locating armed units in populated areas. Again, this is a prudential judgment President Bush must make.

Now to the last point: War must be a last resort. Saddam has defied the world for twelve years. He continues to refuse to fully cooperate with weapons inspectors. He has failed to meet the requirements of U.N. Resolution 1441 by not providing proof that he has disarmed. His military continues to fire on allied planes. In sum, Saddam has shown utter contempt for diplomatic solutions and that he will not disarm and cease aiding terrorist organizations unless forced to do so by the United States.

The traditional just war framework provides guidance to determine when the use of force by a nation is justified. I have claimed that war against Iraq is probably just. But because the question is prudential and dependent on uncertain variables, reasonable people can disagree.