Sunday, November 23, 2003

Weigel - Is the 'just war' tradition absolete?

[Excerpts from Idealism Without Illusions: U.S. Foreign Policy in the 1990's, by George Weigel. 1994.]

The United States cannot be obliged to intervene militarily whenever there are gross abuses of human rights. But . . . a devotion to state sovereignty (on the international legal side) and the parallel inclination to justify military action only in cases of cross-border aggression (on the just-war/moral-reasoning side) are not exceptionless norms; they are not trump cards that override every other consideration. If that were the case, then we would be reduced to arguing, in a grotesque parody of the Just War tradition, that there would have been no cassus belli in the Nazi "Final Solution" had Hitler kept the Wehrmacht and his concentration camps within Germany's borders. Sorting out the meaning of "order" in the post-Cold War world is thus going to require very careful thought about how the world responds to specific cases in which genocide is a real and present danger.

[pp. 157-58].

* * *

Neither the contemporary critics of just war thinking nor its defenders have thought very carefully about the tradition as a tradition of peace. But that is really what it is. The just war analyst tries to order the proportionate and discriminate use of force, in circumstances in which other means of redress have been tried and have failed, to the pursuite of the five great ends of politics: justice, freedom, order, the general welfare, and peace. . . . the just-war criteria are the "moral economy" that tempers and orders the use of force which, this side of the coming Kingdom, is an inescapable part of all political life.

Is the just war tradition absolete? One might ask whether politics, the organization of human life into purposeful communities -- is absolete. What we must do is refine the moral logic of the just war tradition to take account of the new political and technological circumstancs in which we find ourselves. The Gulf War and the world that has emerged from the Cold War demostrated just how urgent a task this is.

[pp. 158-159]