The terrorist attacks on September 11, and the subsequent military response by the United States and the United Kingdom, have raised questions about the appropriate use of military force in international relations. Unfortunately, most of the discussion seems mired in arguments advocating attacks either for revenge or to punish those responsible or stalled in arguments against the use of force that seem stuck in either nave pacifism or an automatic anti-Americanism of the far political left. Regardless of which side of the debate over the use of force one is on, however, a common thread is the use of the term “justice.” We hear that the use of force is justified, that the United States must seek justice, or that the use of military force cannot be just, especially if civilians are harmed. And in listening to the cacophony of debate arising around the war against Afghanistan and the al-Queda terrorist network it has become clear to me that a vast majority of individuals have little understanding of the concept of justice with regards to the use of military power.
But a specific framework for understanding the conditions under which the use of military force is morally just does exist, and examining this framework can, I believe, provide a position from which we can begin to determine from a more sophisticated and less emotional viewpoint the appropriateness of the war we find ourselves now waging. But before turning to the specific conditions of a just war, I should lay my cards on the table. I fully support the military action underway and would support even a broader campaign against other states or terrorist organizations that have supported or undertaken acts of terror against American or allied targets. And I believe my position is consistent with the restrictions of just war.
Just war theory is comprised of two parts: jus ad bellum, the justice of going to war, and jus in bello, the norms governing the use of force during war. For a military conflict to be considered just, both the conditions governing going to war and the norms limiting the conduct of war must be met. There are six conditions governing the former and two conditions regarding the latter. The conditions for just ad bellum are:
n Just cause war is just only to deter aggression, defend against an attack, or right a grievous wrong.
n Competent authority the use of force is allowed only when authorized by legitimate government.
n Right intention the aim of the war must be only to alter the specific conditions or policies of the enemy state that provided the just cause.
n Limited objectives an unconditional war of attrition cannot be justified the goals and means pursued or utilized must be proportionate.
n Last resort a state must exhaust all peaceful means of resolving a conflict before initiating the use of force.
n Reasonable hope of success a war that is unlikely to achieve its limited goals is immoral.
The conditions for jus in bello are:
n Discrimination every effort must be made to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants, and to minimize civilian casualties deliberate and direct attacks against civilian targets not permitted.
n Proportionality to remain morally justified, the minimum level of violence to achieve the limited aims of the war must be used indiscriminate destruction is not permitted.
With the possible exception of last resort, it is always possible to claim that one more diplomatic or political effort could be made the war now underway in Afghanistan clearly meets the conditions of jus ad bellum. United States and allied military strikes are designed both to right a grievous wrong, the support for terrorism directed against civilians, and deter future attacks. The United States government has the legitimate authority to undertake these operations, a position only bolstered by the support of other states and by international organizations such as NATO. The statements by both President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have demonstrated both the right intention of this war and its limited objectives to diminish the likelihood of future terrorism and limit the support given to terrorist organizations by other states.
As for last resort, critics would be right to point out that another non-military effort could be made. The question is whether it could have had any chance of working and the several weeks of activity between 11 September and the onset of the war do indicate that the United States did allow a reasonable period of time for non-military efforts to be made. And I would argue that the United States and allied forces have a more than reasonable hope of success, given the isolation of the Taliban regime and their poor military capabilities.
This war is also being conducted within the restrictions of just in bello. The use of “smart” munitions where possible and the provision of humanitarian aid, along with the avoidance of indiscriminate raids on built-up urban areas, demonstrate the clear concern the United States and the United Kingdom have with how this war is fought. And while some civilians have been killed, and it is likely that more will die as the conflict continues, this does not violate the condition of discrimination. Just war theory requires that efforts be made to minimize civilian casualties while recognizing that such losses are inevitable in any large-scale use of military force.
From the conditions put forth by just war theory the justified nature of this war can clearly be supported. All uses of military force are not equal, nor equally moral. The deliberate targeting of civilians by the terrorists on 11 September places their actions beyond the pale. The reasoned and limited reaction of the United States and her allies, however, are firmly within the tradition of the just and moral use of military force.
Jonathan Canedo is a graduate student in the department of political science and has taught “Ethics in International Relations” at Oberlin College.