Debating Just War Teaching in Age of ISIS

In the days that followed Pope Francis' Aug. 18 remarks on U.S. airstrikes earlier in the month against Islamic State, the buzz was about whether the pope had actually given his consent to them.

The more sobering post-buzz reality is how one stops what, in the pontiff's words, is an "unjust aggressor."

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Does the United States go in, alone or as part of a broader coalition of nations? Or, to use the language of just-war theory, is the United Nations the "competent authority" to judge these particulars?

Pope Francis appeared to endorse the U.N. during his in-flight news conference returning to the Vatican from South Korea.

"A single nation cannot judge how to stop this, how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War, there arose the idea of the United Nations. That is where we should discuss: 'Is there an unjust aggressor? It seems there is. How do we stop him?'" he said.

"The U.N. charter permits military intervention in response to armed attack at the invitation of a legitimate government or with the approval of the U.N. Security Council," said Gerard F. Powers, professor of the practice of Catholic peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

"In this case, you can make the case that the unilateral intervention is, from a legal point of view, legitimate, because it's at the request of a legitimate government, in this case, the Iraqi government," he added.

"We should try to build as big a coalition as possible, and the U.N. is a venue to do that," said Jim Nicholson, who was U.S. ambassador to the Vatican during the first term of President George W. Bush. "President Bush tried to do that before going into Iraq (in 2003). He got very close," but was ultimately unsuccessful, he added.

Speaking about the Islamic State situation, Nicholson said the United Nations was "a legitimate place" to try to build a coalition.

"It's interesting to analyze whether that becomes sort of the collective prudential judgment to fulfill that justification. Does [the U.N.] then become the body that's responsible for the common good? I think you could probably argue that, yeah, it could be legitimatized that way, that they could collectively begin to take steps. I think the United States would certainly welcome that."

Nicholson said trying to convince the Vatican of the U.S. justification to invade Iraq in 2003 was "the biggest diplomatic challenge I had in the four years I had as ambassador. In January of 2003 at his annual address to the diplomatic corps, [St. John Paul II] looked right at me and said, "No to war," and he went on to say that war is a failure of mankind—the last resort—and that war should never be prosecuted when there are any other alternatives remaining." And despite bringing in Catholic philosopher Michael Novak and papal biographer George Weigel to bolster his case, Nicholson never succeeded in changing the pope's mind.

Robert George, McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and the former chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, advocates military action against Islamic State. He recently launched an online petition, already with more than 12,000 signatures, calling for Islamic State's military destruction in order to protect religious minorities in the region.

George said a "better model" than 2003 is "[President] George H.W. Bush in the first Iraq war [in 1991]. Most of the world united to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

"[Bush] got a lot of criticism for not deposing Saddam at the time. The principle was that you can't permit one nation to invade another nation with impunity in order to acquire territory. Bush held back from deposing him," George added. "When you create a coalition like that, you stick to what the coalition's goals are. And you don't go beyond what the nations agreed to."

Neither George nor Nicholson discount the nature of the threat.

"Force is justified when it's necessary to protect innocent people against atrocities. Christians, Yezidis, Shia Muslims, even some Sunni Muslim communities in Iraq are being subjected to genocides," George said. "There is no other way to prevent these genocides—burying people alive, cutting off people's head, raping women, torturing people. Negotiations are impossible. There are no borders to push them back to. I know of no one who thinks we have a hope of protecting them" absent military action.

"I raised the questions again in this moral justification of today's weaponry and today's communication and the mindset that this caliphate has," Nicholson said. "Do you have to wait until you yourself become a victim, or do you take action to protect your people and assist others? I think it's the subject of just enormous importance. And it needs to be dealt with posthaste."

Notre Dame's Powers said any confrontation with Islamic State fighters would not be just another engagement in Iraq.

"It's important to first understand that we've been deeply involved in the conflicts in Iraq one way or another for decades," dating back to the 1980s when Iraq invaded Iran twice, he said.

"This particular intervention is just a continuing of the Iraqi intervening of 2003, which created the conditions for massive involvement in Iraq—which created the conditions that led to the formation of the current problem. And we've been engaged in one form or another—deeply engaged—since we overturned the regime."

Powers said then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's invoking the apocryphal Pottery Barn rule in 2002—"you broke it, you bought it"—is "not quite the aphorism" that applies to Iraq. Instead, he added, "we broke it and we need to help fix it."

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HERBERT ELY MR/MRS
3 years 11 months ago
Here is a comparison of just war teaching with the principles of military strategy as developed by Department of Defense after reflection on Vietnam. http://www.herbely.com/2004/08/just_war_preemp.html In 1988-1990 I was privileged to be one of a few civilian students at the US Army War College in Carslile, PA. This article was a result. On the issue of competent authority: whatever strategy is adopted will require risking the moral and physical lives of our sons and daughters as they execute the strategy. Said authority should be answerable to us as voters since it is our children and spouses who will be sent to war. Since the UN does not answer to us it is not, in my mind, a competent authority.
Beth Cioffoletti
3 years 11 months ago
"There is no other way to prevent these genocides—burying people alive, cutting off people's head, raping women, torturing people. Negotiations are impossible. There are no borders to push them back to. I know of no one who thinks we have a hope of protecting them" absent military action. Why does the quotation mark in the quote above end BEFORE the words "absent military action". Were they not part of Robert George's words? It seems that he (and everyone else quoted) are saying that military action is the ONLY way to resist and stop an aggressor. What, exactly, does he mean by military action? How do you use RESTRAINED military action - just enough to stop the aggressor and no more? I am remembering when Bill Clinton used U.S. force to return exiled President Jean Bertrand Aristide to Haiti in the mid 1990's. It was an unpopular action, but it was the right thing to do and there were no casualties. Could military action be taken without bombs or casualties? As a show of resistance and protection for the people who are suffering -- sort of a human shield?
Tim O'Leary
3 years 11 months ago
The UN is completely impotent to do anything about ISIS, and it is naive to think anybody will do anything if the US doesn't lead. Every day that goes by without the US leading is another day ISIS will get stronger and kill many more innocents. This is the evil of inaction (as happened in Rwanda and Nazi Germany early on) - a sin of omission. The model of George Bush Sr. is the right one, in part, but the US cannot wait and it has an obligation to act as it is already there. The ISIS Crisis is worse than Assad or Saddam Hussein, since the tyrants killed to maintain power but ISIS kills to exterminate or enslave all those who will not convert. Today we here from CNN that they are selling 300 Yazidi girls to their soldiers (http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/30/world/meast/isis-iraq-syria/index.html?hpt=hp_t2). ISIS needs to be dismantled completely, and the later it is left the more it will cost us, in effort and lives. Our problem is the US doesn't really have a leader at present. Several members of this administration have warned us: Our Secretary of State (Kerry) & Defense (Hagel), our UN Ambassador (Powers) - even our Attorney General "Eric Holder: "“in some ways . . . more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general" (link below). Yet, our Can't Do President is forever focusing on what he cannot do. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/president-obama-needs-to-focus-on-how-the-united-states-can-meet-global-challenges/2014/08/29/11ec9e5e-2f90-11e4-bb9b-997ae96fad33_story.html.
Bill Mazzella
3 years 11 months ago
The Koran does not condone violence Self defense yes. Here, I believe is where the dialogue with ISIS must veer. " Killing is a heinous and irreversible crime. One who deliberately kills another therefore brings down upon himself the wrath of God. Such an act leaves no scope for atonement. God will reject him, and he will be rewarded with eternal hell fire. Khan, Maulana Wahiduddin; Goodword (2013-12-11). Quran: A Simple English Translation (Goodword ! Koran) (Kindle Locations 11268-11270). Goodword Books. Kindle Edition.
Beth Cioffoletti
3 years 11 months ago
During the atrocious attacks on the Kurds and accompanying attempts at ethnic cleansing by the Iraqis in the late 1980s, Palm Beach Pax Christi (my local peace and justice group) held discussions. We sent requested supplies to be distributed by field representatives in the mountainous regions which were home to the nomadic Kurdish shepherds. Since that time, conditions throughout the entire Middle East region have grown far worse, with widespread destruction and resultant uprooting of whole populations. What it amounts to is a "clearing" of all but those who have acquired or are planning to acquire vast holdings of land, resources and assets. This is about oil and similar resources. It involves pipelines and fracking elsewhere as well. This phenomenon is occurring all over the world. What is the role of the churches? What is our response to the principalities and powers that are inching ever closer to destroying life as we have known it?
Bruce Snowden
3 years 11 months ago
"This kind (ISIS) can be cast out only by prayer and fasting," quoting Jesus. The Prince of Peace also spoke of examining how much military force would be needed to successfully overcome an advancing enemy, if possible first seeking terms of peace, yet being ready to attack if a just peace becomes impossible. St. Ignatius of Loyola said in addressing the twist and grind of human experience in relation to prayer to God, we should first pray as if everything depended on God (prayer and fasting.) But we must also work as if everything depended on ourselves ( consider using military force if all else fails?) These are my interpretations. Let both approaches be "on the Table." If ISIS responds to the grace of God relevant to "prayer and fasting" well and good - it is the better way. But if its savagery continues, military force becomes imperative. Yes, while working for peace we must also be prepared for war, as the human heart, mind and soul, is quite capable of the most outrageous injustice in devilish ways that must be forcefully destroyed. Is there a better way to address the ISIS threat to civilization?
Tim O'Leary
3 years 11 months ago
Self-defense and the demands of justice demand that ISIS be destroyed, as quickly as possible. They will keep beheading captives, every week or so. They are enslaving young girls and selling them to their troops. I support the Kurds as the most likely able to defeat ISIS, with NATO support. It appears the UK will have to lead this as the US administration doesn't know what to do. There is a bigger question about fundamentalist Islam that needs to be address more broadly, without any hiding behind political correctness. The mass child sex abuse of over 1400 children in Rotherham, UK over several years, seems to have been known but ignored. So, it is not only in the Middle East. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/publiccatholic/2014/09/rotherham-and-the-cowardly-act-of-offering-up-young-girls-to-the-dragon-of-misogyny/ As to more chronic causes, specifically oil, fracking offer the hope that Western dependence on the Middle East will go away in the next 20 years or so. Already, the US will be a net energy exporter by 2017.

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