Principles of Just-War Theory

Lynn Roulstone at the Open University raised the questionsWhat do we think to Aquinas’s Just War theory?  Is it ever possible to have such a thing?” and provided a link to a short explanation of the seven principles of Just-War Theory.

I wasn’t particularly impressed by them and this was my response:

1. Last Resort
Sartre, Ghandi and Jesus said a violent response need not be the final resort.  Deciding not to use violence is also an available option.  It was certainly the best way for your civilisation to survive an invasion by the Roman empire, the Mongol hordes or many other invading forces who purpose was to subjugate.

2. Legitimate Authority
We have a representative democracy so if Tony Bliar decides to start a war despite dodgy evidence and 3 million people protesting, he is perfectly entitled.  If Obama declares war on Mexico tomorrow, he has legal, personal, absolute authority to do so under USA law.

3. Just Cause
Righting a wrong done to A committed by B by killing C is as logical as bombing for peace.  It just results in tit-for-tat feuds that need never end.

4. Probability of Success
If it is wrong to fight in case you lose – and there is always the possibility of unexpectedly losing – then one should not fight.  Conversely, if one has such overwhelming power that victory is inevitable, there must be diplomatic alternatives to using overwhelming violence.

5. Right Intention
A hollow argument.  The victor is always right, after the event.  Also, if the intention of war is to re-establish peace, then the best outcome is genocide of one’s enemies and destruction of their culture since that best guarantees peace.

6. Proportionality
The minimum amount of force absolutely necessary is often the assassination of one person or one dynastic line.  However, international conventions have long, long agreed that targeted execution of the leaders of sovereign states is against the rules.  Killing millions of the people who happen to live in the same country is OK though.

7. Civilian Casualties
The concept of total war (which is thousands of years old) means that the economy and production ability of the enemy are part of the war machine and valid targets.  Bombing dams to flood valleys is fine.  Armaments factories employ civilians as do the mines and refineries that serve them.  There is no point continuously killing their soldiers if they just keep breeding and equipping more – one must raze their cities, salt their fields, sabotage their infrastructure and starve the population into defeat.  The civilian capacity to raise armies must be destroyed.  The alternative is to not use total war, but then you lose to someone who is.

I do not see how there can be a just war.  Expedient, yes, but just, no.

Chilcot, briefly

At the most sympathetic interpretation, the second Gulf War was initiated on poor quality intelligence, incomplete intelligence, contrary to evidence-based failure to find WMDs, an overly-keen desire to initiate war, a premature decision to initiate war, a lack of collaborative decision making and not listening to objections and alternatives.

So, it should not have been initiated.

Tony Blair is a war-monger.

I don’t think we learned anything we did not know already.

There’s also no discussion going on about alternatives – which is what I have been feeling and saying for years.  Stop looking for reasons to go to war – which is what happened here – but instead look for evidence-based, properly-researched, alternatives.

Philosophy at third year of study – yea or nay?

Been too busy to post, lately.  Life, eh?

Anyway, do I do philosophy at level 3 in my custom Peace Studies degree?

I had intended to do module A333 Key Questions in Philosophy with the Open University specifically for topic 2 of 5: “War – Can there be justice in war?

That part is described thus:

“Is there a clear moral distinction between killing combatants and killing non-combatants? Are there circumstances – situations of supreme emergency – in which it is justifiable to suspend the accepted conventions of war? Should all soldiers be treated in the same way, regardless of whether their cause is just? This book will guide you through some of the core ideas of Just War Theory and recent criticisms of this approach.”

I could just study those questions for myself and produce my own conclusions on here.

What happens now about the burning Syrian oil fields?

The oil wells currently being blown up in Syria and being used by IS should have been dealt with months ago.  This has been said by quiet lone voices but only became newsworthy just this past week as the airstrikes against them began.

We know from the 2nd Gulf War that these will burn and continue to burn until the fighting is over.  Presumably, if IS somehow manage to put out and cap a well, it will become a target again and this continue until the territory is retaken.

This will mean months, or years, of the burning of crude oil polluting the local land indefinitely and air downwind for the duration, which the government cautiously warns will be three years or more.

What a waste of an irreplaceable commodity.  What a filthy, highly carcinogenic, CO2-filled cloud it will produce.

And the workers at these oilfields are not going to be AK47-wielding jihadists but the same oil-field workers who were there before.  Civilians.  Likely doing their job at gun-point now.  Now being blown up or burned to death by our bombing.  Airstrikes kill civilians.

War is great, innit?  Lovely grainy black-and-white pictures of something going “Puff” from 12,000 feet up reported as the good work of terrorists being dealt with, when actually it is just destruction and killing and maiming and polluting.

About 300 to 1,000 civilians were killed in Iraq for each person killed in the Twin Towers terrorist attack.  I wonder what the kill ratio will be for the Paris terrorist attack.  At that rate it will need to be about 39,000 to 130,000 ‘collateral’ civilian deaths.

62 workers were caught up in the recent Azerbaijan oil rig fire accident, of whom half are likely dead.  It is looking like a tragedy caused by lax safety measures and a violent storm.  Bad enough, but still not as bad as the awful, no, horrific Piper Alpha disaster which took 167 of the 228 lives on board.

Syria has about 40 oil fields with a number of wells per field but I cannot find the latter number – shall we assume 10?  Assuming 62 workers per well (as they are all land-based, I believe) that gives us 34,800 civilian workers as potential death targets of the oil well bombings.  That’s a ratio of 190 civilian deaths for each Parisian victim.  I wonder if that will be enough to satiate the politicians’ blood lust?  If not, there’s the fire control crews, the replacement workers for wells that are put put and repaired, pipeline maintenance crews, pumping station crews, management and admin offices and all manner of other support and ancillary staff who come under the heading of ‘infrastructure’.

I’m sure that with a bit of effort—killing the accountants, secretaries, maintenance staff and cleaners too—it ought to be possible to get up to the same kill ratio of 300 foreign civilians to victim as was achieved in Iraq.

Do think on that when being impressed by those grainy, black-and-white videos taken from long range – that ‘infrastructure’ includes the people who work there, leaving their widows, angry fathers and brothers and embittered children ready to refresh the ranks of IS or produce the next generation of terrorists.

Assuming the cancer from the oily black smoke doesn’t deal with them first, of course.

What do you believe is the best way to deal with ISIS?

I was privately asked by someone on The Student Room forum the following question:

Your sig has intrigued me for a while (Studying to support my peace activism), and if you don’t mind me asking, I was wondering if you could expand further upon your views especially with respect to current issues involving ISIS? What do you believe is the best way to deal with ISIS?

Bear in mind I still consider myself a student of peace studies and my opinions are not as well-informed as I want them to be.

Firstly, I don’t think we should have got ourselves in this position.  I was one of those who thought the Second Gulf War was going to be a stupid mistake.  Arranging for the disposal of Gadaffi was another.

Change should not be brought about on a national scale so quickly; people can’t adjust and accommodate it.  A transition from a tyranny or autocracy to democracy takes generations and we have plenty of evidence—especially in Africa—to show this.  It is necessary to educate the majority of the population in justice and political theory and let them experience it for themselves before they will be the force that demands it and supports it.

However, having made the mistake and created government-less states, we should have imposed one.  We could either have used the colonial model which we know how to do (and would be unpopular) or invented a completely new model such as a UN Peacekeeping Government formed from a committee of the security council and stable Middle East representatives with a 20 year plan.  Use the experience of the Marshall Plan as a model.  Putting in a puppet government was doomed to failure, as it always has been throughout history.

But most of all, don’t intentionally topple a government without a plan for what happens next. That was just irresponsible stupidity.

However, that’s not where we’re at.  We didn’t do go in with a proper plan and so it went belly up.  What a surprise.  (I’ve only got 15+ years of project management and I could see it was not planned properly.)

So, instead of a stable government we have a guerilla force taking territory.  They cannot be fought by airstrikes or conventional warfare.  Every war that stopped came to end because the fighting stopped and talking started.  That talking should have begun in September 2001 by the USA saying “What on Earth did we do to make you so angry?” rather than saying “A bit of shock and awe will make them behave“.  The days of gunboat diplomacy are long over.  Another 2,000 words are needed to explain what I mean but essentially the USA should have engaged with Middle East countries and opened up communication to understand differences.  Hopeful, they would have acknowledged that cultural imperialism really is just as bad, if not worse, than military imperialism.  At least the Romans would let you run your own country and not force you to learn Latin, buy their products and worship their gods.  The USA has no idea (and no experience) of how to run an empire so their attempt at capitalist cultural imperialism is causing this global hatred that is surprising them so much.

But that communication didn’t happen, so now we have huge areas of angry people.  Is it legitimate they are angry?  Subjected to cultural imperialism and imposed American business who have a bad reputation, especially with regard to mineral rights, overseas human exploitation and not caring about the local environment overseas.  Then having their governments toppled with the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians in the process.  Yeah, I think they might be entitled to be grumpy.  Like most terrorists, they are trying to be heard but nobody is listening.

When the listening starts, the fighting can stop.  Not talking, listening.

Now for some old, and new, saws:

  • Peace cannot be kept by force.  It can only be achieved by understanding.
  • War doesn’t fix war.  It’s not wrong if someone gives up — he’s not actually losing, he’s saving people’s lives.
  • All wars have to end in some kind of political compromise.
  • To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.

I am aware I haven’t answered your question yet.

What do you believe is the best way to deal with ISIS?

Bear in mind you are asking me for the solution to a problem that Putin, Cameron, Assad, Merkel, Obama and others have not solved.  They have rather more resources and advisers than I have.

Either:

  1. flood the entire area with hundreds of thousands if not millions of peacekeepers (think of what we did in Northern Ireland street corners, but for the entire IS territory) (I wish we had done that when Yugoslavia had started to collapse);
  2. try and kill everyone in the entire IS territory, or all the males at least, until the remaining women beg their remaining menfolk to surrender (I think history will call that a genocide) which seems to be the current plan;
  3. call a cease-fire and open communication to come up with a negotiated settlement.  This will be a toughie since the UN does not want to recognise the Islamic State organisation as a legitimate state.

(Oh, and we move Heaven and Earth to re-take the the oil fields and stop buying the fecking oil off them, FFS.)

Personally, I’d go for the third option and go into negotiations wielding a humongous military threat: we’ll recognise you as a state IF you agree to democracy within 10 years, complete cease fire, votes for all, compliance with international human rights, education to age 16 for all, a government model based on the historic moderate Caliphates not a militaristic Islamist state, etc. and we will fund the replacement of the destroyed infrastructure.  If they refuse say we re-start the assassinations and large scale bombing.

They will accept – they will have to because it gives them what they want.  But it will collapse within weeks into in-fighting (civil war is inevitable, it always happens in these situations – warriors are not politicians [with the remarkable exception of Fidel Castro, of course]).  That is the opportunity to ‘assist’ and bring stability by starting to apply option one.  In those areas where stability can be brought either impose a government or, if possible, re-instate the previous local government under international direction and supervision.

Effectively, create a state similar to Iran, then work on making it more moderate by keeping communication open, re-establishing trade and tourism (“peace through tourism”) and keep the big fist in plain view.

If they want recognition as a state give it, but on terms the rest of the world find acceptable.  That’s the deal: the only alternative is assassinations, massive military invasion, total destruction, war trials and an imposed government.  Complete destruction and replacement.

As for justice for the killings – forget it.  Go for a ‘peace and reconciliation’ exercise like that which worked in South Africa and trade justice for peace.  It is controversial but has worked many times.

(I expect a few quiet assassinations accidents might occur when names and locations of certain unpleasant individuals are leaked to Mossad, Putin and the like.)

Bear in mind, this is off the top of my head and not backed up by teams of advisers and academics.

And you will also note I am not an absolute pacifist (although I respect and support those who are.  But if war is required, plan it properly, execute it efficiently and have a proper plan for what is to follow.  War solves nothing, it only destroys.  Peace has to be built.

Re: I feel depressed because of war 2

I get so sad , and also can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t ignore the fact that they are suffering.

The solution to feeling sad is action.

How are you going to stop war in the world?  You can’t it’s impossible.  You can stay as positive as you want its not going to stop war.

There have been, over the past few centuries, many treaties which have defined and redefined what is and is not permitted in a war.  We’ve moved on a long way from the massive horrific hack-people-to-death battles of the middle ages that in a couple of days could kill a significant percentage of a country’s men.

  • All sorts of tactics and weapons have been banned because of their cruelty or long term effects.
  • Rules have come in about targeting civilians and what is permitted by those in uniform and what is forbidden by those who are not.
  • The law has changed around much of the world regarding conscription; it is no longer legal to force someone to fight and kill others if it is against their conscience to kill.

So, there have been many changes made to violent conflict.

There have also been changes to prevent conflict, such as:

  • The formation of the EU which arose from a treaty designed to prevent another war between France, Italy and German.
  • International courts have been set up on every continent to prosecute those who break these treaties and laws.
  • The League of Nations and then the United Nations were formed to provide somewhere for communication to occur so war can be avoided.

So, there have been changes made to prevent conflict.  These have all happened because people have been active and made them happen.

I don’t think violent conflict will ever be eliminated. But we can continue to prevent it, reduce it, constrain it and clean up after it to minimise its impact.

Bombing for Peace. This time: Syria.

1.  Cameron loses Commons vote on Syria action

“It is clear to me that the British parliament…does not want to see British military action”

“”David Cameron, Prime Minister, 20th August 2013

BBC: “MPs have rejected possible UK military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to deter the use of chemical weapons.  David Cameron said he would respect the defeat of a government motion by 285-272, ruling out joining US-led strikes.”

Had that very close vote gone the other way, we would be attacking Syria’s government, troops, infrastructure and, inevitably, civilians as “collateral damage”.


2.  MPs support UK air strikes against IS in Iraq

Intervention at the request of the Iraqi government was “morally justified” to combat a “brutal terrorist organisation” and was clearly lawful.  Britain has a clear “duty” to join the campaign, and IS is a direct threat to the UK and I am not prepared to “subcontract” the protection of British streets from terrorism to other countries’ air forces.

Paraphrasing of David Cameron, Prime Minister, 26th September 2014

BBC: “The UK Parliament has backed British participation in air strikes against Islamic State extremists in Iraq.  After a seven-hour debate, MPs voted for military action by 524 votes to 43.  Some MPs expressed concerns about the prospect of future engagement in Syria.”


3.   David Cameron believes ‘there ​i​s a case to do more’ in Syria

“British MPs need to think again about what else British forces can do to help moderate forces in Syria.”

David Cameron, Prime Minister, 2nd July 2015 via Downing Street

Guardian: “No 10 stressed it would be better if military action, likely to be air strikes, only went ahead if there was a consensus in the Commons.  Michael Fallon, defence secretary, said Isis was directed and led from northern Syria.  He vowed that if there was any decision to include air strikes in Syria as part of a full spectrum response (spot the weasel words), the government would seek the approval of parliament. “Our position remains that we would return to this house for approval before air strikes in Syria.  We are clear any action we take must not provide any succour to Assad’s regime.”  The prime minister’s spokeswoman stressed that British military assets were already flying over Syria, and British forces were helping to train members of the Syrian Free Army outside Syria itself.”

So we’re training ‘freedom fighters’ / ‘insurgents’ / future terrorists?  Isn’t that the classic mistake the CIA has been making for decades?


4.   Syria air strikes conducted by UK military pilots

” ”  ← (i.e. nothing so far)

David Cameron, Prime Minister, 17th July 2015

BBC: “UK pilots embedded with coalition allies’ forces have been conducting air strikes over Syria against the Islamic State group, it has emerged.  Crispin Blunt, Conservative MP and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, said the 2013 vote on action in Syria was a “totally different decision” to the question of strikes on IS and that that decision had not been undermined.  Labour has indicated it would not oppose military action in Syria. Acting leader Harriet Harman has said the case for air strikes was now different to the situation in 2013, when Labour voted against UK military action in Syria.”

When was this discussed and arranged?  Apparently a couple of days ago when the Greece crisis was all over the news.  What a good day that was to bury bad news.

Both sides of the Commons are all for this.  Politicians are odd creatures: opposition in everything, everything, as a matter of principal, regardless of the logic, yet unity in wanting to extend violence.  There is something about the desire for power that results in a mind-set of wanting to see others hurt.  [ note to self – there’s a psychology essay to be written based on that last sentence. ]


It seems there are three sides in Syria:

  1. Assad’s regime which is being attacked by the US and allies.  UK troops may or may not be embedded and supporting these attacks.
  2. The revolutionaries trying to bring down Assad’s regime (sorry, who are these people exactly?) who are being trained by the UK.
  3. IS / ISIS / ISIL / whatever we are to call-them this week are being attacked by the US and allies and (covertly) the UK.

This is like the proxy wars of the Cold War in the1900s where NATO and the Warsaw Pact tested and demonstrated their weapons’ capabilities in other countries by supporting opposing sides.  At least then the West and East could pretend we/they were on opposite sides.  Now the West seems to be supporting the fighting on all sides.

Had the 2013 vote gone the other way (requiring a difference of just 7 MPs’ votes), we would be openly bombing all of Syria.  No wonder Moslems think there is a Holy War going on.

As for training the rebels (the next generation of elite mercenaries and terrorists) trying to bring down and take over Assad’s government, how many of them are now fighting for, leading, arming or training the IS / ISIS / ISIL forces?

Presumably, if and when IS / ISIS / ISIL have been defeated, the airstrikes will continue but against the Syrian government.  Therein lies the inevitable argument of the next few days: “We may as well start bombing Assad now to prevent his resources falling into IS / ISIS / ISIL hands“.  Yep, I predict a scorched earth policy, although it will not be called that.

Here we are in 2015, still bringing peace with bombs.  And how well has that been working since 2003?

There is no pax Americana

Bringing down stable governments of countries and failing to put something in its place is the principal cause of the terrorism and conflict going on in the world at the moment.

When the Romans invaded, they took control, dictating foreign policy, providing defence in exchange for a promise to not rebel and pay tribune.  In so doing peace reigned over the Roman Empire at the cost of freedoms at a national level. This was the pax Romana.

The Islamic Golden Age, inspired by the philosophy that “the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr“, in which huge advances were made in medicine, mathematics, culture and science, was also a period of peace, sometimes called the pax Islamica.

A thousand years later the Mongols conquered much of Asia and held it to produce the Pax Mongolica.

The Ottoman Empire in turn provided peace to its citizens in the pax Ottomana.

A similar arrangement to the Roman Empire was achieved by the British Empire to produce the pax Britanicca.

Chinese empires have come and gone and provided their own periods of internal peace, as have many other cultures.

The concept of “empire” has come to be seen as purely a bad thing since the mid 20th century as countries gained their independence, partly through economic consequences of the World War 2, partly through improved communication and education and partly through the disruptive influences of the Cold War.  In place of an imposed external governing body, freedom for those of a territory has been granted, often with disastrous consequences.  The lesson that could and should have been learned from those experiences are that independence should be done slowly, replacing institutions and structures with new ones, a part at a time.  It is frustrating, but far more stable. [Note to self: specific examples needed.]  A clean break leaves a county with no stable government and civil war and decades of turmoil is the usual result.

But the desire to ignore the beneficial benefits of a benign empire has resulted in much chaos, death, suffering and desire for revenge of late years.  The removal of stable governments from countries like Iraq and Libya without replacing it with something else that works has been far worse than what most empires have done in the past.

It would have been cheaper and less destructive (but probably no more productive in the long term) to simply assassinate those leaders that were considered undesirable.  At least there would not be hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed civilians and a world-wide problem with revenge terrorism.

The idea the USA has been the global policeman producing a pax Americana is a fallacy.  They are not spreading peace: just fear and hate, chaos and disorder.

Instead of toppling a regime, take it over and change it from within, fools.  Learn from thousands of years of history.

Dinosaur poets

A fellow Open University student wrote in Dinosaur poets TM:

what is/are Poets

Can they die and emerge again

like Dinosaurians

?

which made me think of some of the First World War poets and haiku in response.

Brooke.  Grenfell.  Munro.
Owen.  Rosenberg.  Sorley.
Thomas.  Wilson.  Wyn. 

The Great War is history, and the poets above did not survive it.  But fragments of their work live on, typically preserved in stone, like the fossils of creatures who lived at a time before ours when great beasts roared across the earth, ripping gentler souls limb from limb in the quest for blood to spill and flesh to consume.

Which got me thinking about the metaphor of Hollywood B-movie dinosaurs as great monsters, roaring and killing like the great guns of the artillery blasting away at the soldiers in the trenches.

Children love to see reconstructed dinosaurs and stomp about roaring and pretending to be a T-Rex, chomping great chunks out of authority figures like parents and teachers and elder siblings.  Being so big and powerful that they can do as they like, ruling the earth.

Is this the childish, base desire that prompts people to like to watch war being made on the news?  Gore-porn as entertainment?  How advertisers are clamouring to get their products promoted alongside clips of people being beheaded, blown up, burning alive, shot and gently rotting in the sun?  The advertisers and media know what we like.

Civilisation is a transparently thin veneer.

Maybe the world ends with a text message

100 years ago today, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated which was the catalyst for the Great War.

That prompted someone called Night-Gaunt49 to comment on the Candorville comic strip of 27th June 2014 to say:

Seems insane that the murder of one person would start a global war, but it did. The stupidity of “entangling alliances” that Washington warned us about did them end.

The “entangling alliances” view is from pro-German revisionist thinking of the 1960s. Academia is now reverting back to its view of the time that it was about the unified Germany’s rapid growth and expansion not being matched by having a presence on the world stage. Germany would have started a war before 1918 whatever happened. The death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was merely a conveniently timed catalyst. It was used by Germany as an excuse to push the Austro-Hungarian Empire to start a war (it mattered not with who) so that Germany could conduct either an expansion to the East, or, if necessary, follow the Schlieffen Plan to quickly defeat attack France and then Russia. Either would have achieved the desired effect and likely given Germany diplomatic presence on a par with France, England and Russia.

The Schlieffen Plan was ‘improved’ by a committee which reduced the size of the attacking force, which meant the German forces failed to sweep through Belgium and France as quickly as intended. That resulted in the trenches and the machine-gun meat-grinder that killed millions.

It was not one murder that started the Great War. That was just one tiny step in a long succession of events and circumstances.

It was not inevitably a global war. That was caused by Germany not following their well-designed plan, resulting in them being delayed by defensive forces, which allowed time for lots of other states to pile in to see what land or diplomatic advantage they could grab in the process.