[Paleopsych] NYT: Justice After War
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Sat Sep 4 18:42:48 UTC 2004
Justice After War
New York Times, 4.9.4
By PETER STEINFELS
Efforts to think clearly and systematically about the
morality of warfare have traditionally fallen under two
headings. "Jus ad bellum" referred to moral questions about
going to war. "Jus in bello" covered moral questions about
the conduct of war.
Now Michael Walzer, a political philosopher who has played
a leading role in contemporary thinking about what is just
or unjust in warfare, has proposed a third division: "jus
post bellum," or justice after war.
Actually, Dr. Walzer, a scholar at the Institute for
Advanced Study in Princeton, briefly dealt with the
question of justice in postwar agreements in his 1977
classic, "Just and Unjust Wars,'' a book that Christopher
Shea, writing in The Boston Globe last May, said "helped
drag just-war theory, a tradition of thought beginning with
St. Augustine almost 2,000 years ago, out of theology
departments and into the mainstream of political science -
and all the way to West Point, where the theory is now
But Dr. Walzer, in "Arguing About War," published last
month by Yale University Press, now recognizes that this
earlier treatment "is much too brief and doesn't even begin
to address many of the problems that have arisen in places
like Kosovo and East Timor and, recently, in Iraq."
"Arguing About War" is itself brief, a collection of a
dozen of his lectures and essays, more than half of them
produced since 2000. They are clear and concrete, bridging
the seminar room and the public forum, philosophy and
politics. They address Kosovo, Rwanda, the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, terrorism and much else.
The introduction and a lecture discussing "the triumph of
just-war theory," indeed delivered at West Point, offer a
succinct defense of that theory against pacifists,
crusaders and the realism that dominated the field of
international relations when he was in graduate school in
the 1950's and early 60's. "Moral argument was against the
rules of the discipline," he notes.
But left-wing critics of the war in Vietnam, almost against
their will, Dr. Walzer says, "fell into morality."
Searching for "a common moral language," they found
themselves talking just-war theory, more or less without
In Dr. Walzer's own application of just-war theory, the
massacres, ethnic cleansing and terrorism of recent years
have increased his readiness to find that military
intervention can qualify as just. But not in the case of
In 2002 and 2003, his conclusion that an American invasion
there would be morally unjustifiable emerged in a series of
essays, reprinted in the new book, that did not have
today's luxury of hindsight about faulty or manipulated
intelligence but were based on what could be reasonably
known at the time.
He certainly shared the view that Saddam Hussein's regime
was brutal and dangerous, but he rejected the choice that
the Bush administration even now insists that it faced:
trust a madman or go to war. Maintaining a prolonged
inspection under military pressure would be risky and
costly, Dr. Walzer argued, but a moral alternative to what
was ultimately embarked upon.
In January 2003, he recognized the allure of the
counterargument that "a short war, a new regime, a
demilitarized Iraq, food and medicine pouring into Iraqi
ports" would be "morally and politically preferable" to
such "a permanent system of coercion and control."
"But who can guarantee that the war would be short and that
the consequences in the region and elsewhere would be
limited?" he said. Didn't just-war theory speak of war as a
"last resort" precisely "because of the unpredictable,
unexpected, unintended and unavoidable horrors that it
For Dr. Walzer, as for many opponents of the war, the moral
quandaries hardly ceased once it actually began. If the
American invasion was unjust, the Hussein government's war
to perpetuate an unjust brutal tyranny was no better. Dr.
Walzer could only hope for a quick Iraqi collapse and that
"everything possible be done to avoid or reduce civilian
casualties." This central requirement of jus in bello still
But Iraq also made urgent what had become apparent in
humanitarian interventions like that in Kosovo: the need
for jus-post-bellum criteria that went beyond those used to
judge either the resort to war or its conduct.
At one point Dr. Walzer organizes his proposals for
jus-post-bellum criteria, which appear somewhat haphazardly
in different essays, around "closure" and "legitimacy."
"Once we have acted in ways that have significant negative
consequences for other people (even if there are also
positive consequences), we cannot just walk away," he
writes. Closure encompasses responsibilities to "think
seriously" about post-victory actions (a moral test he
believes was not met in Iraq) and to expend sufficient
resources on reconstruction. ("A just occupation costs
money; it doesn't make money.")
The question of legitimacy makes democratic principles
central to jus post bellum - principles like
self-determination, popular consent, civil rights, defense
of minorities and the idea of a common good.
"Jus post bellum can't be entirely independent of jus ad
bellum," Dr. Walzer says. "The distribution of the costs of
the settlement is necessarily related to the moral
character of the war."
Nonetheless, the critical moral issues that the United
States must debate regarding its current responsibilities
in Iraq appear to him rather independent of the issues that
were foremost in the debate about whether to fight there in
the first place.
Dr. Walzer's thoughts about jus post bellum remain sketchy,
suggestive rather than systematic. Indeed, in some respects
he would have to admit that they may be contradictory. In
Iraq, for example, meeting the criteria of "closure" -
notably, carrying out reconstruction - may prove to be
seriously at odds with meeting the criteria of
"legitimacy"; and the various democratic criteria of
legitimacy itself, like turning over power and assuring
minority rights, may be at odds with one another.
At this stage, however, Dr. Walzer is still trying to
introduce a new category of analysis. Just-war theory does
not cease to be relevant when one side declares "mission
accomplished"- even in those cases where that may be true.
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