Libya and Just War
President Obama, winner of the Nobel peace prize, has thrust the United States into yet another war. I know from facebook and twitter that many of Obama’s liberal supporters are shocked and upset with the decision. It really shouldn’t surprise anyone. As I noted out in the run-up to the election, Obama never was a peace candidate, much less a proponent of just war theory. Instead he uses roughly the same calculus for war as Bush did, though as Douthat points out he uses a more multilateral approach once he’s made that calculus. Obama’s position as a peace candidate was grounded more in not being a Republican than being a believer in peace, and it is the fault of those advocates for peace that they didn’t do the basic research to see that truth. I am curious to see if this has changed the minds of many of the more “liberal” Catholics who voted for Obama, but I have not seen anything from them yet.
Since most of our attention was on Japan, I think most Catholics and Americans are still feeling a little whiplashed by the quickness. It’s so difficult to determine whether this action was just b/c there is so much confusion and secrecy both about our true intents towards Libya as well as the actual situation in Libya. The Vatican hasn’t been able to offer much guidance either. It is true that Pope Benedict’s neutral statements are far less condemnatory (if they are condemnatory at all) than JPII’s during the buildup to Iraq, but the key word there is “buildup.” There was very little buildup, and very little opportunity for debate and dialogue before the war was begun. It is true that the Vatican is more comfortable with a multilateral, UN-endorsed war than a unilateral war but it is not certain whether the Vatican approves.
So we’ll need to rely on the sources of just war doctrine ourselves to determine whether this was a just war. I confess that I don’t feel comfortable enough with the facts of Libya to say for certain, but I find it very unlikely that this is a just war. Don did a post a few days ago with different just war standards, and just for the sake of brevity let’s assume that there are two different approaches to just war: the Thomistic approach and the current approach.
Under the Thomistic approach, there are 3 requirements in the Second Part of the Second part, Question 40: (1) that the war be declared by a legitimate sovereign; (2) that there be a just cause; and (3) there must be an intention of advancement of good. Catechism 2309 has a more detailed description (I would argue that they simply explain further what Aquinas is saying rather than raising the requirements, but that may be an argument for a different time) in which the aggressor nation (i.e. the one to be attacked) must be inflicting lasting, grave, and certain damage, all other means must be exhausted, there must serious prospects of success, and the use of arms must not produce greater evils than the evils sought to be prevented. Let’s look at the Libya situation in detail
This war was declared by a legitimate sovereign, either by Obama or by the United Nations. However, this requirement ought to give us some pause. While the US intervention meets this, the original war was a revolution/civil war declared by no sovereign with legitimate authority (unless Qaddafi meets that requirement & declared the war rather than responded to the rebel attacks). Although Americans are very fond of revolutions, Aquinas was very reluctant to endorse them because of the inevitable anarchy and chaos that follow, with the result being a tremendous amount of evil.
There seems to be a just cause here: namely the humanitarian protect of Libyan citizens from harm. However, the question really comes down to is that the true intention? Serious questions need to be asked about why under this reasoning we are intervening in Libya but chose not to do so in Iran and continue to abstain in Bahrain. After all, the true intentions are what matter and is is difficult to discern with so little discussion what the intent of the UN powers is.
Finally under the Aquinas account, they must advance good. I think this includes in the modern definition the prospects for success as well as the admonition to avoid doing more harm. Pope Benedict has expressed reservations that any modern war, considering the capacities for destruction as well as modern warfare’s tendency to become urban fighting, can meet this requirement. It is true that the UN has tried to limit itself to just airstrikes, but it is questionable whether an effective protection of the people of Libya can come through air alone. Thus a more extensive war may be required. This is particularly true if there are areas at the end which the rebels control and aid is required to assist them to secure peace.
However, this is sort of speculation, as I’m presuming different definitions of success. What is most troubling about this campaign, and what probably prevents it from being a just war under any theory, is the total lack of an objective. You cannot have reasonable prospects of success if at the outset there is no definition of what success is. Is it stopping the massacres? Is it thwarting Qaddafi’s attempts to crush the rebellion? Is it removing Qaddafi? If it is, what are we seeking? Who are the rebels? Is there someone in power? Are we deciding the government or are the Libyans? And who is we? The UN + the Arab League? Just the Arab League? Perhaps mostly the US?
While it would be unreasonable to anticipate every possible solution, it is reasonable to require governments to have a much more detailed and settled plan before going to war so that they and their peoples can have a basis on which to determine whether a war will do more harm than good. They still haven’t decided who is actually going to be a part of the no-fly zone, with no one willing to pick up the bag. Considering our lack of resolve coupled with the immense damage modern wars do, it is very difficult to make an argument that we will do more good than harm.
As for the catechism’s other requirements, I presume Qaddafi’s attacks & killings would meet this requirement. The other one is more difficult, as it requires all means of dialogue and negotiation to have been exhausted. It’s clear the UN didn’t do much but on the other hand if you describe it as an emergency action I’m not sure how much time & negotiation they really had. Part of the problem here to my mind is that the UN sat back and hoped the Libyan rebels would win like they did in Egypt, and when they started getting rolled back they quickly decided they had to do something. I imagine the war fails this requirement, but I’m not sure how demanding this requirement is if there’s a legitimate emergency.
In closing, it appears unlikely that this action satisfies the Church’s requirements for a just war, particularly b/c there is a lack of an objective goal that would prevent the damage of anarchy & chaos that follows the violent overthrow of a regime. This coupled with the damage of modern warfare as well as many other questions that surround this hasty war suggest to me that Catholics ought to oppose this as an unjust war. Regardless, all Catholics ought to follow the example of the pope and pray for peace in Libya.