Just and unjust war. By Ishtiaq Ahmed. Moderator Asia Peace.


It is worth examining if President Bush who admits being a born-again Christian has done the necessary homework before going to war with Iraq. Even a moron can easily understand that the Iraqi regime is no threat to the USA. Therefore there is no jus

As we approach 27 January 2003 the big question in everybody's mind is: what will the UN inspection team say about Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction? All peace-loving and fair-minded people hope that no punitive action is taken against Iraq until and unless its guilt has been established beyond any reasonable doubt.

Such common sense wisdom, however, may not be to the liking of President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair who seem desperate to launch massive military action notwithstanding that their universities and higher seats of learning have for centuries been preaching respect for the rule of law and particularly international law which no doubt has much of its origins in western jurisprudence and ideas of natural law. However, the experience of the last 2,000 years of empires and empire-building is that great powers and imperialists rarely practise what they preach.

The fact remains that throughout history civilisations have had to deal with the possibility of war and violent conflict. The Hebrew prophets have a long record of wielding the sword and the Hindu gods also took to arms to fight evil. Equally, the Prophet (PBUH) of Islam did not hesitate to go to battle in person against those out to kill him. The Islamic doctrine of war prohibits aggrandisement motivated only by a desire to plunder and rob. The only founders of religion who are not known to have taken recourse to violence are Jesus and Buddha. Jesus did create a fracas when he attacked the moneylenders inside the great temple in Jerusalem but that was a rare physical display of anger. His most celebrated message has been to turn the other cheek to the attacker. Prince Sidharta never resorted to force once he declared himself the Buddha.

Civilisations based on Buddhist values are for the moment not relevant to the issue of war and peace, although the Sri Lankan Buddhist clergy has gained great notoriety for preaching an aggressive type of nationalism, which resulted in a belated but deadly Tamil reaction in the form of fanatical devotees of suicide bombers. I have sometimes wondered how the Tamil youths have been seduced into acts of self-annihilation since they do not have a martyrdom discourse or theology to invoke. Scholars have noted that such a discourse has been developed with the help of a revised interpretation of the Mahabharata epic.

In the Christian tradition, war as such is illegitimate if one were to follow faithfully the teaching of its founder but the fact that the fortunes of Christianity were transformed from a persecuted sect dispersed in the Roman Empire to state religion when Constantine in 312 AD converted and the Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire. The orthodox doctrine of war however took much longer to take shape and it was enunciated by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74). He listed three conditions or principles according to which war could be justly fought: self-defence, defence of someone else and finally "extreme necessity". In other words, all other pretexts for resorting to hostilities were acts of unjust war.

However, the whole moral framework on which Christian politics was founded crashed with the rise of realism under the influence of Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527). He simply took for granted that war was a fact of politics and the main thing was to win the war by all means. The secular type of realism which subsequently evolved in the West justified conquest and expansion and theological reference to just and unjust wars was more or less abandoned in political parlance. Curiously enough, the presence of strong Christian values in the USA resulted in the revival of the doctrine of just and unjust wars. The USA's participation in the First and Second World Wars on the side of the Allies was justified in terms of a just war against brute aggressors.

It is therefore worth examining if President Bush who admits being a born-again Christian has done the necessary homework before going to war with Iraq. Even a moron can easily understand that the Iraqi regime is no threat to the USA. Therefore there is no justification for starting a defensive war against Iraq. In 1990 the senior Bush could justify military action against Iraq because Saddam Hussain had launched a wantonly aggressive war of occupation and conquest against Kuwait. No such circumstances exist in the present situation. In fact none of Iraq's neighbours have asked for US intervention. The Americans can of course argue that they are acting in behalf of the Iraqi people who want to get rid of a tyrannical government. This argument is permissible to some extent, but in the recent meeting of the Iraqi opposition in London the Arab Sunni community of Iraq was almost entirely unrepresented. The third condition of "extreme necessity" is perhaps the vaguest and therefore open to greater arbitrary interpretation. However, nothing has happened in the last 10 years which suggests that such a necessity has arisen. In fact the US-UK bombing of Iraq from 1998 to the present has been unjust since it was not initiated in response to any Iraqi aggression. It has continued on a weekly basis to punish Saddam Hussain ostensibly for failing to bow to the will of the United Nations and allow UN weapons inspectors to re-enter the country. At present even that demand has been fulfilled therefore no grounds exist for a just war against Iraq. It should be emphasised that the Americans have been unable to provide any proof of Iraqi sponsorship of any terrorist attacks against the US.

The growing opposition to such a war exists at the highest levels in American society. President Jimmy Carter has spoken against it, so have senior Republicans and Democrats. Massive demonstrations and peace rallies have been taking place throughout the world. They are clear indication that the whole world considers any attack upon Iraq without due course to international law to be a case of an unjust war. One wonders if a delirious superpower will heed the general will. It seems that the desire to control vital oil sources is the main driving force behind the preparations for war in the Middle East. The world must respond by a worldwide movement to banish war altogether from the affairs of civilised people.

The author is an associate professor of Political Science at Stockholm University. He is the author of two books.

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