Unless you have been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly heard of Syria and the violence that have been on-going there. And with the recent chemical attack, allegedly by the Syrian government on its own people, President Obama thinks that a strike is necessary in order respond to this heinous act. There have been many debates on this Syria matter, and there has also been lots of ink spilled on the nature of the proposed strike within the just war framework. If you are unfamiliar with just war theory, I will here give a very brief description of it.
The just war tradition has its provenance in Catholic philosophical thought. It has two main criteria, which also holds within themselves other criteria. The two main criteria are ius ad bellum (criteria for the right conditions in order to enter war) and ius in bello (criteria for the right conduct in war). In order to satisfy the ius ad bellum, these need to be present:
- There must be just cause
- The declaration of war must come from competent authority
- Right intention of establishing lasting peace in entering war
- War as a last resort
- There is a good probability of success
- The damages and costs of going to war–both temporal goods and spiritual health–must be proportionate to the good expected by taking up arms. This is also known as the condition of proportionality.
In order to satisfy the ius in bello, these must be present:
- Principle of Proportionality — This means that the response to the aggression must not exceed the nature of the aggression. Thus the question to answer here is what kind of force is justifiable? Accordingly, no total war is permitted. The Christian must also consider the virtyue of charity and mercy.
- Principle of Discrimination — This means that the response to aggression must be discriminate and directed against unjust aggressors.
Accordingly, non-combatants are immune from war as targets
If we subject the current Syria matter to the just war doctrine, we will find that it is unjust to carry out an attack. A friend, former professor, and mentor, argues in his recent article for the Washington Post that it is morally impermissible according to the criteria of ius ad bellum for the United States to strike. :
The call for military intervention in Syria arises from the desire to “do something” when faced with evil, yet it is not clear what intervention will accomplish. The just war tradition insists that the war be fought with a right intention, meaning that it is fought in pursuit of clearly defined objectives that will facilitate the establishment of lasting peace when the conflict ends; it also insists that there be a reasonable chance of success that those objectives can be met through the use of force. It is revealing that in our public officials’ statements to date on the possibility of intervention, they seem more certain that we will resort to violence than on what the purpose of that violence will be, whether to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities through surgical strikes or to create a no-fly zone to weaken the Syrian military and provide a safe haven for the opposition. Violence is a solution in search of a rationale. Our faith in redemptive violence blinds us to those outcomes more likely than peace if we intervene: the widening of the war through the more aggressive intervention of other powers such as Russia or Iran, or the coming to power of an Islamist regime in part of or the whole of Syria if we successfully topple Assad. The low chances of accomplishing a peaceful outcome also make the inevitable civilian casualties of any military strike especially unjustifiable.
Elsewhere, we find R.R. Reno observing on his Firstthings daily piece that:
There are times when military force should be used, and now may be one of those times. But a just occasion does not automatically a just war make. One of the principles of just war-making is probability of success. Another is proportional use of force. Still another is last resort. These principles require clarity about the strategic goal of going to war. Success in achieving what? Proportional to achieving what? Last resort for achieving what? The Obama administration’s explanations of our need to bomb Syria make it impossible for me to formulate these questions in anything like a precise way, much less answer them. When do we know our credibility has been successfully preserved?
You are of course free to form your own conclusions on the matter, but I agree with Shadle and Reno in that our administration has been quite vague, at best, about what we hope to accomplish with a military strike. And with this vagueness, they fail to justify a strike in the just war tradition. In these times, we must remember that the power of prayers is unbelievably effective! Pray for our brothers and sisters in Syria, my friends.
Have a blessed Monday.