Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Just war--and nothing else

The latest edition of the New York Review of Books has a review of Michael Walzer's Arguing About War that contains an interesting survey of just war theory and the tensions between right-wing US Catholics and the Vatican in the run-up to the war (see the Stanford Dictionary of Philsophy's entry on war for fuller treatment and bibliography). If you don't want to buy the book, I'll tell you the ending: this war is not just.
However, although we can easily dispense with the fiction that the successive pretexts for invading Iraq satisfy the requirements of jus ad bellum, the belief that the Bush doctrine of September 2002 is one of "pre-emptive" rather than "preventive" war persists, along with all the confusions it invites, especially among those whom one might expect to be able tell the difference. For instance, take the Liberal Democrat MP Michael Moore, who told Westminster Hall on Thursday that
"whether we are talking about self-defence, anticipatory self-defence and how that interleaves with the US pre-emption doctrine, or the grey area of humanitarian intervention, we must be careful in altering our ideas to reflect a changed world situation not to provide arguments that will justify a Chinese intervention in Taiwan or a North Korean strike against South Korea or some other part of the world. That will be a finely balanced set of arguments, and we in this country must be alive to it."

I suppose that some speech-writer might relish the intellectual challenge of "finely balancing" the unique right of the US and its allies to attack whomsoever they please with claims to be upholding international law and enforcing the will of the UN, but it's hard to see why anyone else should be taken in by any of this. The only argument that springs to mind is that the US is a special political formation and that its "proper authority" to wage war trumps that of other nation-states. Can't say I agree with that (to put it mildy) and I wouldn't like to defend that position, but I don't see how else it can be done.
More on jus in bellum and the destruction of Fallujah tomorrow.

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