Monday, May 31, 2004

George Weigel Expounds on Role of U.N., Just War

George Weigel was one of the featured speakers and organizers of a conference last month on "Catholic Thought and World Politics in the 21st Century", which was held on May 7th at the Gregorian University. On May 27th, Zenit News Service published an interview with George Weigel in which he expounded on his criticisms of the U.N. as well as his views on just war tradition.

  • On the United Nations:

    "Blessed John XXIII made clear that he was not supporting "world government," or international structures that would impinge on the legitimate prerogatives of national governments or local governments.

    So, from a Catholic point of view, this is a both/and, not either/or, matter. Both the U.N. and sovereign states are facts of international public life, and Catholic international relations theory has to take account of both.

    On the question of the U.N.'s authority, and as I indicated in my paper at the April conference, it would be hard to say that, as a matter of fact, the world's nations have agreed that the only entity that can authorize the use of armed force is the U.N. . . . On the other hand, the nations of the world are obliged, morally, to build a world of "order," which is Augustine's understanding of the meaning of "peace," and that has to be done, politically at least, through transnational and international organizations.

    Work to reform the U.N. system is thus a moral and political imperative. But while that work goes on, it doesn't make much sense to me, from a moral-theological or political point of view, to ascribe to the U.N. capacities it doesn't have and a moral authority it has rarely demonstrated in practice.

  • On the "presumption against war" [asserted by Cardinal Stafford and others]:

    Of course Catholic thinking about war and peace begins with a "presumption against war," if by that we simply mean that war should not be the first recourse in an international conflict.

    But those who use that phrase today often mean much more. They mean that the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force is always morally suspect, and this has not been the stance of the Catholic just war tradition for 1,500 years.

    The classic tradition believed that the morality of the use of armed force depended on who was using it, why, to what ends, and how. Thus the classic just war tradition begins with a presumption in favor of justice: legitimate sovereign authority has the moral obligations to defend those for whom the public authorities have assumed responsibility.

    There are many ways to fulfill that obligation; in certain circumstances, proportionate and discriminate armed force can be one of those ways.

    If you begin your analysis this way, with the responsibility of sovereign authority to advance the peace of order, you can bring the full riches of the tradition to bear on the situation; if you begin somewhere else, you can get confused. And your vision can become blurred.

  • On the Vatican's response to the war in Iraq, and to future military engagements:

    It would be inappropriate for the Vatican's secretary for relations with states -- the "foreign minister" -- or officials like the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to announce, publicly, and in so many words, "These are the good guys, these are the bad guys; good guys, go to it, and God bless you." The diplomats of the Holy See should press for non-military solutions; that's their job.

    Similarly, the moral witness of Pope John Paul II has been directed, appropriately, toward pressing the nations to resolve their conflicts without violence. We can be sure that future popes will do the same thing.

    That witness and that diplomacy should be conducted in such a way that it does not suggest that the Church has, as a matter of moral principle, adopted a stance of "functional pacifism," which it has not.

    How to do that is a delicate matter that requires, among other things, careful coordination of statements from all the organs of the Holy See. It also requires a measure of self-discipline on the part of senior churchmen in Rome.

    American and other reporters falsely assume that every senior official of the Holy See speaks "for the Vatican." They don't. In this kind of media environment, senior churchmen have to be very careful to let the Holy See speak in its own voice, through its own appropriate organs.