The Role of International Moral Authority in Iraq: Suggestions for a way out of the impasse
In wrestling with the moral challenge presented by the conflict in Iraq, those who invoke the principles of just-war theory should also consider the landmark encyclical of John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, with its recognition of international moral responsibility.
Judging the Occupation: Before, During, After
Since the beginning of the war in Iraq in 2003, Christian moralists have sought to judge the invasion and its consequences according to the traditional principles of just-war theory. They have relied upon jus ad bellum criteria to assess the morality of the pre-emptive invasion itself and jus in bello precepts to make a moral judgment on the conduct of the war following the invasion. As a result of the continued insurgency and increased sectarian violence, however, the U.S.-led coalition forces have remained in Iraq long after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the defeat of his military. A third category of just-war principles, jus post bellum, must now be employed to judge the morality of a military occupation that continues after the original military objective has been achieved.
Moral judgments in the light of these three sets of criteria ought to be pursued even if they do not readily lead to a consensus among just-war moralists. Since the continuing presence of U.S. troops and their allies has become so controversial, greater attention should be paid to the jus post bellum principles. Complicating the judgment, however, is this fact: an international organization has now taken on responsibility for the occupation, and its role cannot be evaluated by conventional just-war criteria.
An International Moral Authority?
The U.N. Security Council, in its Resolution 1546 (2004), formally sanctioned the occupation of the U.S.-led coalition on the grounds that its continued presence was necessary to train Iraqi troops and police and establish conditions for an enduring peace.
Those voting for the resolution assumed that the Iraqi government could take on full sovereignty within a year. When that did not occur, the council (by Resolution 1723 in November 2006) extended its mandate to the end of the 2007 calendar year, while calling for a review of actual conditions in Iraq sometime in the summer of 2007. The resolution also reserved the right of the Baghdad government to call for the termination of the mandate at any time.
Since the councils responsibility has become an integral part of the situation in Iraq, the application of traditional just-war principles has become problematic. The meaning of proper authority, for example, is more complex. One can, of course, argue that the general ineffectiveness of the council means that the United States, acting with the consent of the Iraqi government, is itself morally entitled to determine how long the occupation should last. But such an argument makes assumptions about the council that are not necessarily true. More significantly, such assumptions do not take into account the full range of Catholic teaching that is relevant to international issues.
John XXIIIs Prophetic Voice
Once the role of the United Nations is recognized as legitimate, our moral calculus must consider international relations in a manner that includes, but also transcends, conventional forms of state-centered analysis. Such a broader moral perspective can be drawn from the 1963 encyclical letter Pacem in Terris. The encyclical explores various levels of social order, going beyond the rights and duties that must be observed within states and the obligations that arise in relations between them. Pope John XXIII recognized that each state, while independent, is part of a larger community composed of the whole human race; he also held that this inclusive community should have its own public authority. The establishment of such broader authority was demanded by the universal common good.
How, then, should we understand the authority of the United Nations in relation to Iraq? Strictly speaking, the United Nations does not constitute an international public authority, because humanity itself cannot be considered a political society. The United Nations labors under many constraints, not least its lack of effective coercive power. But Pope John recognized the value of its existence and expressed his desire that the United Nations would gradually become more equal to the magnitude and nobility of its tasks. His papal successors have also encouraged the proper growth and increased stature of the organization.
An Unavoidable Question
In discussing the tragedy that Iraq has become, the legitimacy of international moral authority is not merely an academic question. The fact that the Security Council, by its initiatives, has asserted its jurisdiction over the Iraq conflict requires moralists to consider the implications of this assumption of responsibility by an international body. The principles enunciated in Pacem in Terris encourage such reflection as well.
When the Security Council mandate comes up for review, its members will be required to examine all of the circumstances of the situation on the ground and assess, as objectively as possible, the likely consequences of a continuing foreign presence in Iraq. Are there grounds for believing that the continued presence of foreign troops in Iraq will further the achievement of a peaceful, stable society there? The council members must make an honest judgment, with all the courage and imagination that this complex crisis demands. Two of the permanent members (the United States and the United Kingdom) are directly involved in the conflict, and Article 27 of the U.N. Charter may require both to abstain from voting. Still, much can be done to move the situation beyond the present impasse, given sufficient goodwill on the part of all.
The Promise of a New Perspective
All the parties involved would benefit from a fresh new approach, which might develop within a broader global context. Currently, public debate in the United States is caught between the polarities of staying the course and setting a timetable for withdrawal. A third alternative must be developed that would allow for an honorable redeployment of our forces without leaving the Iraqis to face a civil war. The vacuum could be filled by troops directly authorized by the council. One member state, India, has already indicated an interest in such a project. The task of national reconciliation, which the United States has been unable to advance, also needs attention. The U.N. Security Council is empowered under Chapter VI to exercise its conciliatory authority to help opposing parties overcome fundamental differences and reach a resolution in their common interest. Here, too, the role of an international moral authority may prove to be a vital resource.